Research Culture Workshops

The University of Exeter's ambitious exploration of research culture in each department across the whole University using technology to promote discussion. 

What kind of an organisation are you in the context of the Concordat?

Research Intensive 

What challenge were you trying to address with this initiative?

Understand, cultivate and develop an appropriate and nurturing culture for all our researchers from PGRs to the most senior research leaders. 

What did you do and how does this align with the Principles and keywords you have selected below?

As a first step to creating and supporting an optimal research culture, we wanted to investigate the perceptions, challenges, positives and opportunities that currently exist for our researchers across the entire University. It was important that we heard what they wanted to say within the context of their departmental experiences and that these could be discussed and probed further where necessary. This approach is more suited to a workshop environment than to surveys or individual contact.

We have completed 30 individual workshops, which have engaged over 300 members of research staff from ECRs, through to research leaders. This has produced in excess of 2,000 separate comments and ideas for action planning and prioritising ideas to enhance the way we work, support each other and develop our research culture.

The highly interactive nature of the workshops has provided a vital opportunity for us to ‘take stock’, via group discussions and virtual ‘breakout rooms’ and engage in facilitated reflections of what we do well in relation to our research culture in general. We have also considered the associated commitments and what we collectively feel should be important aspects of a fully supportive research culture across individual departments and the University more widely. These have been very open discussions with no pre-conceived ideas, representing a chance to get our researchers input into where we should focus our activities, prioritise and start to action plan. This ultimately helps to ensure we are fully supporting our researchers and associated commitments at both the departmental and institutional levels to build a strong, inclusive and supportive research culture.

What were the challenges in implementation and how did you resolve them?

We invited colleagues from all of our academic departments, as well as key members of professional services staff to participate in a series of detailed, online, facilitated workshops. Each workshop was bespoke to individual academic departments and we worked with our research leads (e.g. DVC Research, Director of Research Services, Associate Deans for research and Directors of Research) to encourage participation.

The workshops were designed and initially facilitated by an external professional expert who then trained the internal team to co-facilitate. We ensured that the co-facilitators represented key stakeholders in the development and support of research culture: Head of Researcher Development & Research Culture (Dr Chris Wood); Head of People Development (Dr Clive Betts); Open Research Manager (Sofia Fernandez); PGR and ECR Experience Officer (Charlotte Juggins).

Remote working

The workshops utilised the online tool ‘Mural’ to investigate a range of cultural areas, including research recognition, collaboration and collegiality, research leadership, supporting careers within and beyond the University, open research and research integrity, that have subsequently become our priority themes to take forward. There were also short presentations providing information about the Researcher Development Concordat and Open Access Research agendas to add context for the participants.

How did you evaluate the impact of your initiative?

Feedback at the time enabled us to identify key topics that require further investigation. The full impact will only be realised over time.

We are now planning a series of ‘Deep-dives’ for each College where we can explore further the priority areas that were raised in the discussions. The resultant actions will be fed into Departmental Action plans as well as our Researcher Development Concordat Action Plan from which we will identify short to medium-term items to prioritise, resource and deliver, both centrally and from within each department.

Were there any surprising or unexpected consequences?

The workshops exposed many more people to the Researcher Development Concordat and to Open Research support. It was clear that there were a number of delegates across the Departments who were not fully aware of either topic, the university's investment in these areas or the support that was available to them. The more intimate nature of the workshops (being departmental) helped aid open discussion. 

What advice would you give others wanting to do this?

Allow plenty of time - it has taken nearly a year to run all the workshops.
Plan the workshops well and use technology effectively - Mural worked well for us as did the breakout rooms we used on occasion.

Beneficiaries: Research staff Postgraduate researchers Research and teaching staff Managers of researchers

Stakeholders: Researchers Managers of researchers Professional staff Senior/executive team

Concordat principles: Environment and culture Employment Professional and career development

Keywords: Training Professional development Research identity Research culture Induction Career progression Policy Wellbeing Researcher voice Bullying and harassment Job security Working conditions Performance management Career management Diverse careers Leadership development Research assessment Recognition Open Transparent and Merit-based (OTM) recruitment and progression