This case study describes our reflective practice approach. Through the creation of the Developing Excellent Researchers Subcommittee, we widened engagement making it more inclusive and balanced academic and Human Resources need. This established network means that research staff can contribute to the institutional strategic research agenda. This was important in developing our HR Excellence in Research Award submission as it ensured that we engaged with individuals from our research staff cohort through to those in senior research management roles. Changing the focus of support for HR Excellence in Research and widening engagement has facilitated a more reflective approach. This will continue to evolve as the agenda turns to research culture.
Newcastle University is a research intensive university
In 2018, Newcastle University achieved its 8th year of recognition for the HR Excellence in Research Award. In achieving this we responded to feedback from the external assessors’ report of our 2014 submission for HR Excellence in Research by widening engagement so that our provision was more inclusive and driven by a more balanced consideration of academic need and Human Resources considerations. Our reflective practice approach to this was singled out for positive feedback in the assessment of our 2018 submission. The case study is about our reflective practice approach and how we used the HR Excellence in Research Award improve our support for research staff.
The establishment of our Developing Excellent Researchers subcommittee means that people can contribute their views and engage with the Developing Excellent Researchers agenda and gives a direct route for research staff to contribute to the institutional strategic research agenda via URC. This was important in developing our submission as it ensured that we were engaged with individuals from our research staff cohort through to those in senior research management roles who were keen to contribute to the development of our research support systems and the HR Excellence in Research goals. Changing the focus of support for HR Excellence in Research and widening engagement has facilitated a more reflective approach. It has had the added benefit of allowing us to develop more representative input to other activities, such as the recent consultation on the revised Concordat. This is very much about voice and it will continue to evolve as our agenda focuses on research culture.
A key part of our preparation for the assessment was to reflect on our previous HR Excellence in Research Action Plan to identify what had been achieved. This process allowed us to demonstrate how the plan was converted to tangible actions and activities that support our research staff. Internal factors such as faculty restructuring, changing staff roles and departures, new strategic priorities, and the work arising from these, all impacted on the plan. Having the consistency of the Developing Excellent Researchers subcommittee, however, allowed us to meet these challenges more effectively. In developing our self-assessment report, we adopted a pragmatic and open approach by being explicit in our narrative about the reality of supporting researcher development against the backdrop of a dynamic University environment. This had important consequences for our approach to the self-assessment, which was treated as part of a process of continuous improvement rather than a more mechanical ‘tick box' exercise.
The assessment of our 2018 submission to HR Excellence in Research confirmed that we had increased the academic drive and achieved our goal. We successfully achieved our 8th year of recognition.
Seeing it through the lens of reflective practice really helped.
Standards such as The Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers or the HR Excellence in Research Award process can provide valuable reflective practice tools for supporting continuous improvement. A reflective approach shifts the focus from achieving 'Award' (although that is good!), to honestly looking, learning and implementing change leading to ever-improving practice for the future. Value the journey, not just the end point.