DAN: Hi, my name is Dan O'Connor, I'm Head of Research Environment at Wellcome and before that, Humanities and Social Science.
MEGAN: Hello, my name is Megan Reitz, I'm Professor of Leadership and Dialogue at Ashridge Hult Executive Education. My area of research and passion is within organisational dialogue, the way we communicate and encounter one another inside organisational systems.
DAN: My talk today is called Private Foundations, Public Obligations: Wellcome and Research Culture. It is an attempt to answer this big question which is on my next slide. And that question is, what is the relationship between Wellcome's status as a private charitable foundation and the work we're doing in research culture? And I'm asking this question in an attempt to take a couple of steps back from the coal face work of research culture and think about this from a theoretical and conceptual point of view. So that we can have some robust and rigorous thinking, as we go forward, into research culture. On my next slide I'll give an outline of my talk today. First of all I'll give a background on Wellcome's commitment to improving research culture, what we've been doing and the progress that we've made so far. And then I'm going to take us to some of the conversations and interesting arguments that have been going on around the roles that private charitable foundations like Wellcome play in the public sphere. And then, riffing off that, I'm going to talk a little bit about the freedom of private charitable foundations and the accountability they should be under and the obligations that they have. And then, I'm going to talk about a recent example at Wellcome where we tried to put some of this theory about freedom and obligations into practice when it comes to research culture. And talk a little bit about future possibilities for research culture at Wellcome and finish up with a conclusion.
So let's go to the next slide. Let's talk about Wellcome and research culture. As many of you know and the reason that you're all here at the fantastic culture festival is that Wellcome and many people in the research environment have been thinking about positive and negative aspects of research culture. And at Wellcome, we have very much been in what we call "research and campaign mode" ‑ the picture here is the report into the survey and research we did, thousands of people responded talking about the positive and negative aspects of contemporary research culture and Wellcome kicked off a campaign, accepting and acknowledging we really need to change the way research culture works. Everything from representation through to bullying to clarity, to the publish and perish model, we don't need to go through all of that with you at Wellcome we genuinely believe improving research culture is the right thing to do, morally and practically. But where does that belief come from? And what does it tell us about Wellcome's position in the research environment?
Let's take a look at the next slide. Wellcome is part of a research environment in which private charitable foundations play a huge role, and in the past decade or so, critique of Wellcome and Gates and other major charitable foundations has become more and more vocal. And the three books here are just a couple of examples of the in‑depth and often extremely valid critiques that can be applied to private charitable foundations, we have Linsey McGoey there, No Such Thing as A Free Gift, which explores the role of the Gates Foundation. In philanthropy, Rob Reich's book on how philanthropy fails democracy and Anand Giridharadas's book, Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World. There's pros and cons to all of these books and all of these arguments and at another time I'd love to get into a deep sort of critical analysis of them, but suffice to say on the next slide we can draw some broad conclusions from these critiques of private charitable foundations, so Reich for example writes: "Big philanthropy is definitely a plutocratic voice in our democracy and exercise of power by the wealthy, that is unaccountable, non‑transparent, donor‑directed, perpetual and tax‑subsidised. It is an exercise of power, and in a democracy any form of concentrated power deserves scrutiny, not gratitude." And so, this is one of the key critiques of private, charitable foundations like Wellcome, which is it really operates with huge amounts of freedom but very little oversight and very little accountability.
Joanne Barkan, whose work I didn't mention in the previous slides has a great and very witty quote about this: “Because they're free do what they want, mega foundations threaten democratic governance and civil society... wealth in capitalist societies already translates into political power, big philanthropy reinforces this tendency". And this very much why I called my talk today Private Foundations and Public Obligations ‑ we are operating in the public sphere but don't necessarily have all the democratic checks and balances applied to us that public bodies, indeed businesses and corporations often do. We'll just move on to the next slide.
So, this in short is the argument that's made about private charitable foundations like Wellcome. Though they often exercise influence in important areas of the public sphere like health research, without the kinds of accountability via taxpayer accountability or shareholder accountability that other public actors have. And in doing so there is an argument that private foundations undermine democratic control of the public sphere. The idea that the people and the public ought to have a say over what happens in the public sphere. And finally, and quite interestingly the critique the private foundations can exacerbate or be a cause of the problems they seek to solve. So, in thinking about research culture, and improving research culture which I'm sure everyone agrees is a good thing, how can we take into account these criticisms of private charitable foundations and think about Wellcome's role in improving research culture? Let's take a look at the next slide.
So, we're talking now about private foundations and public obligations. And bearing in mind what I think are those powerful critiques of private charitable foundations, when Wellcome seeks to work in improving research culture and again I don't think anyone would suggest that improving research culture is something that Wellcome doesn't want to do, we're all in favour in improving research centre, but we need to think about what Wellcome's role is. And so first of all I think it is important for Wellcome and other private charitable foundations to acknowledge our own place in the research culture system, how we may in the past have been the cause of problems around publish or perish for example, the way in which we assess applications, the way in which certain communities may find it more or less difficult to apply for Wellcome funding. Wellcome hasn't come to research culture completely naively, we need to accept we are part of a system that consciously or unconsciously created negative aspects of a research culture. Secondly, once we've acknowledged that, this is fairly basic moral philosophy one might say Wellcome has obligation with all our freedom not that make things worse when we try to do something in research culture. Any actions we take the bottom line has to be, that we don't want unintended consequences and that puts on us a huge burden of responsibility, to do research and to make sure our activities in the research culture sphere are being checked against other outcomes we want to see and making sure we're not making things worse as we go along. Thirdly the freedom that Wellcome enjoys all the money that we have, and the sort of soft accountabilities that we have in that we also have a responsibility to make the best use of our freedom. Wellcome and other private charitable foundations can take risks, we can be very agile, and we sometimes move in areas that public bodies because of their slightly more stringent accountabilities are unable to do so. So, what are the areas of research culture where Wellcome take risks and push the boundaries? And finally, if we're going to stay, we want to improve and better research culture, we have to be accountable for that, and to whom do we need to be accountable? We need to be accountable to you, the researcher community, and I'll talk a little bit now and move to the next slide about how that might work.
I want to do that about talking about a recent example from Wellcome which were the Research Development Awards. Which was something of an experimental one‑off research grant theme we ran last year and will actual will be making the first awards later this month. The Research Development Awards were a completely new research scheme. And the idea with them was to develop completely new research agenda in the Humanities and Social Sciences as they relate to health. A brief reminder here that Wellcome is not only a biomedical funder we're a big funder of Humanities and Social Sciences and bio methods too. The whole idea of this research scheme was that there would be no research questions in the applications, the big exciting thing for us was your research and vision, what you thought your field of inquiry might look like in the next five to ten years and the sorts of activity you would do to flesh out that vision, but there didn't need to be work packaged as: one, two, three, four, five, Automatic sub questions 4.5, methodologies, formats, frameworks. They weren't relevant, what was interesting to us was the excitement. 50% of the assessment was on the exciting vision and 50% was on research culture and leadership. 50%, a whole half of the assessment was on the way in which the applicants would foster a positive research culture, and how they would do mentoring and leadership and how decision‑making and power would be shared across the research group, the visionary group.
And we would allow the funds to be as unrestricted as possible. The whole point of this was to try and do away with some of the difficulties in contemporary research culture that are often metrics‑driven and insist on very specific deadlines and very specific goals within things and to take some of Wellcome's freedom, the freedom we enjoy and redistribute it outwards to the research community. Crucially as well, when we expect 50% of the assessment to be about a positive research culture we thought it was really important we reciprocate that, and if we expect positive research culture actions and behaviours from you, you as the research community really ought to be able to expect that from us. And so we changed the way we did applications, we were much more involved and open to be giving positive and negative feedback and we tried to remember the adversarial sense of things as well. We gave people plenty of time to have contact with Wellcome to get the feedback and the critiquing they need today make that application as positive and as competitive as possible.
And this really gets back to that moral obligation thing. If Wellcome as a private funder operating in the public sphere of health and research is going to insist that research culture is important, we have to put together research grant application schemes like this, that enable you to take the actions and undertake the activities that are going to support a positive research culture. As I said, these awards are going to be made for the first time, later this month and I hopefully maybe in three or four years' time I will be able to come back to a successor event to this, maybe with some representatives of the group we fund to talk about how this worked and how it's worked well or perhaps how it hasn't worked out at all, the point there being Wellcome is in a position to take this kind of risk, and it is our job really as a private charitable foundation to take that sort of risk in research culture.
Let's kick on to the next slide, what are the future possibilities? Wellcome has as I said been in campaign mode and in research mode and next, our job really is to think about what we can do to positively impact the research culture and to do so we have to recognise that we're part of that culture and recognise our own role in perpetuating some of those negative aspects in research culture. As the private charitable foundation in the future, we've got an obligation not just to spend our money wisely, but to spend our money in ways that make the most of our defining characteristics, freedom and influence. And I believe that the best way for Wellcome to approach research culture is not to set up another series of targets and metrics but to give you guys in the researcher community the freedom and resources that we have in order to enable the research culture to thrive. Of course, Wellcome will try to hold people to account for that research culture but that has got to be reciprocal in the future you have to hold us to account for when we're failing in terms of promoting the positive research culture. Otherwise, we're all just reinforcing the problem all over again.
And so, finally, to conclude on the final slide, Wellcome is very much at the beginning of a journey in research culture, we have to acknowledge where we are, and our part in the research ecosystem. I myself have just been appointed Head of Research Environment, the role and the team that I'm building at the moment are part of a commitment on behalf of Wellcome to really improve the research culture, to being accountable for what we do in research culture, and I'm very much looking forward to seeing how we can work together in the future. And that is the end of my talk. Thank you.
MEGAN: Hello everybody, I'm going to talk with you for the next fifteen minutes or so about conversational habits. Now, conversational habits we have as individuals and in our teams and in our organisations. And you can describe them as sort of stuck patterns, in when we speak up and when we stay silent. And stuck patterns around whose voice we hear and whose voice we discount or ignore. And these conversational habits have big consequences, they have huge consequences in research teams obviously, and some of the organisations that you'll see on the screen now, have been on the front page of the newspaper for all the wrong reasons. Because somebody wasn't able to speak up or if they did, they weren't heard. So, there can be major negative consequences of silence, but of course there could be very positive consequences if you can create habits in a team where it is OK to stick up your hand and say "I've got an idea" or OK to stick up your hand to say, "I'd really like to challenge the way that we're thinking about this, I think there's a different way". If you can do that in a team it's possible to create really innovative thinking and innovative working.
But of course, you know conversational habits taken to the extreme, and I've studied many of these, can even cost lives. So, they can cost lives if we can't speak up around mistakes. It can cost lives if we can't talk about mental health issues. It can cost lives when sectors of society are silenced. So, conversational habits are what I want to talk to you about, and I want you to reflect on your own habits and habits within the teams that you're in at the moment. And first of all, before I dive into some of the research findings that I've come up with over the last seven years or so, I want to point out two big mistakes that I see teams making at the moment and I wonder whether you've seen this happen as well?
So, the first mistake in a team and as an individual is, we kind of point at other people, don't we and we kind of go, "they should speak up more." Or they should speak up differently or more assertively or this or that. They need to be brave. Well, when I first started studying this subjected the two organisations that I went to first of all, said exactly the same thing and so I went to speak to "they", and direct quote, in the organisations that I worked with was this: "Last time somebody spoke up they disappeared". So, it became very obvious, very quickly that yes of course we need to focus on people speaking up. We need to focus on ourselves being able to speak up courageously. But, frankly, if you only focus on that, it's a complete waste of time and resources unless we're also focusing in on creating an environment which is safe to speak up. Why do we have to be so brave to speak up in the first place?
So, a lot of my research focuses in on listening up. The other mistake that I'm seeing more and more and especially over the last year or so, is this. You know I have organisations, or very often leaders, wanting their teams to speak up and saying and encouraging them, come on speak up, we really want you to do this. And so, people go, OK, right you want me to speak up ‑ OK, I'll speak up. Now, let's talk about climate change, let's talk about Black Lives Matter, what about executive pay, sexual harassment. And I've had a few leaders kind of go, oh didn't want you to speak up about that, can we just kind of stick to ideas and mistakes. And again, this shows like a really big misunderstanding, if you're wanting to create a speak‑up culture you can't really pick and choose and some of the ways that we help people to feel safe are going to result in all sorts of conversations coming up. So, leaders and managers and all of us need to be ready for that.
So, I wanted to talk to you a little bit about the reasons why we choose to speak up and stay silent and why we choose to listen to some people and not others. Now in my research I use a framework which is called the Truth Framework and it picks apart some of the habits that we have in order that we might be able to disrupt them so when I want to speak up, I usually think about do I trust my own opinion? Am I aware of the risks or what risks do I perceive in speaking up? Do I understand the power and the politics and people's agendas here? What are the titles and labels that I applied to myself and others which either make me feel like I have the status and authority to speak up or they make me think I can’t, and I shouldn't? And if I want to speak up do I know how? Do I have the forum and the opportunity to be able to speak up? So, all of those things are factors that I'm considering, and they're also considered when we listen up, do we trust the value of someone else's opinion? Do we appreciate how risky they might feel it is to speak up? Do we understand how power and politics get in the way very often of us hearing certain things? Again, titles and labels ‑ how do I label other people and how does that affect whether I listen to them or not? And do I have the skills needed to invite others to speak up to the best of their ability or not?
So, the Truth Framework sets out why we make the choices we do. Obviously in this little talk here, I can't go into each of these areas, but I do want to focus on the listening up, because it is so important. And here's one thing I want to highlight to you ‑ a bubble. We're all in a bit of a bubble. I'm afraid to say the more senior you are as well the more likely you'll be in what I call an optimism bubble. So, first thing, we all no matter who we are, we all seem to suffer from something I call "superiority illusion". We kind of think my data would indicate we've surveyed about 8,000 people now globally, data is pretty clear we tend to rate ourselves reasonably well at speaking up and very well at listening up. It is just the other people that are the problem. OK, so superiority illusion, it is a little bit like if I ask you are you a good driver? Most of you would probably say you're above average and exactly the same is with speaking and listening up. The problem is, is if we are all thinking that we're OK, but it is everybody else that needs to change, of course nothing happens. So, we need to be aware of the superiority illusion.
And the second thing is we need to aware of is something I call advantage blindness; I mentioned a second ago the titles and the labels that we apply to ourselves and other people. So, you've been applying titles and labels to me as soon as I started talking. You have applied the labels of, female, white, British, something to do with age, appearance, all sort of other things, and each of these titles and labels convey different levels of status and authority, depending on the context that we're in. OK. Now, the interesting thing is that if we possess titles and labels that convey status and authority that convey advantage, so for example, still with many exec teams I work with across Europe many of the exec team members might be male, white, and also possess executive titles. So those three taken together very often convey status and authority. When we have these high-status labels, we're often the last people to realise their impact. It's not until we don't have those labels that we look at them and go, my goodness they make a difference.
So, advantage blindness means unfortunately we have to work really hard to realise the challenges that other people might have. And we've written quite extensively on advantage blindness and how you move and shift out of that. But we need to realise particularly as senior leaders, you know again the data's very clear here, as you get more senior you become more optimistic, you think other people are fine, you think other people are speaking up, you think that you're quite good at listening, you think that you're pretty approachable. Um, I hate to tell you it is probably not as high as you think it is, OK. You'll tend to overestimate those things, and actually if you look underneath that other people will be having different experiences. Finally, of course, especially when we're more senior but again whoever we are, it is actually really difficult to get good feedback, so we're in a lovely little bubble and no‑one's going to burst it. Because of the person that we are or because people are concerned about upsetting or embarrassing us OK. So how do we get out of this bubble?
Let me take you through finally three traps that my research has highlighted, and are things to look out for, particularly for leaders but for all of us in teams, OK, these apply to all of us in one way or another. The first is that we forget how scary we are. Now some of you are probably listening to that and go, "What I'm not scary, I'm lovely!" And you may well be, I'm sure you are. But to other people there might be reasons why they hold back from speaking with you. And it might be your title, or background or who you know, it might be that they think you're confident whether you are or not, but some people will probably hesitate before speaking to you. So, we need to see ourselves as other people do. So, ask yourself the question ‑ who might hesitate before they openly speak to you? You know, who might be kind of wary? And of course, this is all around how do we invite people to speak up in a way that they'll feel safe? And honestly, we need to do far more work than we realise in that area.
Secondly, I talk about little lists and this is from an interview that I had with a Chief Executive quite early on in the research and we were asking him about his team speaking up, he found that really important. And he said to us, the problem is I do have a little list in my mind of the people that fit and the people that don't. Now, all of us have in our mind a kind of little list and these are the people that I go to when I seek opinions. These are the people that I'll stop everything and listen to. And these are the people who are actually I either don't know are there, or I kind of discount their views. Now, this isn't about getting rid of the list. That's impossible. But we do need to be able to question it. Why are these people on this list and these people on this list, do those people look exactly like you and sound like you? In other words, are you in a bit of an echo chamber? This of course is the territory of unconscious bias which could be up for this, for all of us to approach and try to understand, but these labels and titles affect us the worse thing we can do is to think that they don't affect us. OK, so we need to reach out and connect with difference
Final trap that I just wanted to take you through is we sometimes send signals that silence others in our team, now you might have noticed this on Zoom if you've been on perpetual Zoom meetings like I have. You know the way you can see your face on Zoom, have you ever kind of glanced at yourself and thought to yourself, oh my goodness? Well, I sometimes when I'm really interested, I have what I call a thinking face and occasionally I’ve glimpsed that on my screen and I thought to myself I look thoroughly intimidating, OK. So, a colleague of mine has a great phrase ‑ know your face ‑ know the signals that you're sending because sometimes those are the signals that will silence somebody just in that moment. And in particular know the signals that you send when somebody has just spoken up. Because your response affects whether they'll speak up again. And whether their colleagues will. So very quick introduction to some of the research that I've done and some of the things that can affect you in your research teams, you know, remember speaking up and listening up, these are incredibly important habits. And speaking up is relational, it depends on someone listening up and I'd argue that perhaps we need to focus more on that area, we're not as good as we think we are, I'm afraid. And the more senior you are the more optimistic you get you know, we all actually are in this bubble that we may need to burst who in order to help our teams innovate and be the best that they possibly can be, so any kind of culture change or development in your team will require you to alter your conversational habits. And if you wanted to find out more there's just some indications there of things to look out there. Hope you found that thought‑provoking and maybe consider altering a little bit the next conversation that you might have.
DAN: To reimagine our current research culture, we all need to share our ideas and do our part. Through our Café Culture kits, we asked the researcher community to share solutions to some of the concerns we've heard about. Some of these ways we've shared on our online Ideas Forum where people commented and voted on different ways to improve culture. These ideas have been helping Wellcome and other organisation to put change into action. And we're now going to move into some questions.
SÉANA: I'm Seána Duggan and a post‑doctoral researcher at the University of Bristol. My idea for a healthier research culture is to give PhD students training on key areas like grant writing and publishing papers to encourage independence and ownership. So, I'd like to ask the panel, what training should we offer early career researchers to support them in their careers?
MEGAN: Firstly, I would recommend that we help early career researchers to understand issues of power and politics. Because they're present, they'll always be present in the research teams that they work with, and yet we often try and disappear power and politics and influence. So, I would kind of get that on the agenda fairly early on with early career researchers and also, trying to help them identify what would help them to speak up and be heard?
So, some of my research also examines the traps that we often fall into around that, so, for example, many of us have quite a big imposter voice in our head, particularly when we start our careers. You know we have a little voice that pipes up and says, "no I can't speak up about this" or I'll look silly if I do this" and it is very helpful for us to be able to look at that voice not as truth but as something that actually can be engaged and sometimes overridden actually. So, I would probably help them to understand imposter voice, and I'd help them to understand their values and how to speak up those values are challenged in any way and also how to speak up in a way that, that person is able to hear you and there's some real skills and strategies around that.
Finally, and obviously, I spend ages supporting them as you can hear, my final point would be around other research that I've done which is on mindfulness. And lots of that research helps you to understand how to be resilient, but also how to be compassionate towards ourselves and others, and again, you know, not something that is usually on the agenda of early career researchers or any other type of profession actually but one that I think is absolutely fundamental.
VALENTINA: I'm Valentina Iemmi. I'm LSE Fellow at the London School of Economics and Political Science, and my idea to create a better research culture is to recognise and remunerate all the hidden work that people do, such as peer reviewing of research, grants, articles, books, and advisory roles. So, I'd like to ask the panel, how should we reward work that contributes to a healthy research culture?
DAN: As a former academic, I'm not sure how far peer review does add to it, it certainly didn't make me feel like I was part of a positive research culture, but I take the point of the question. Absolutely I think we have to expand the universe of what counts, right. And it is not just peer reviewing and mentoring and things like that, there's all sorts of elements of academic and research service that are never captured on grant applications or on tenure and promotion forms or things like that. And I don't need to enumerate them for you now, but what I will say is that often those types of service, those types of care work tend to be done by or tend to be foisted on to women academics, and so the work that women academics do, to keep the wheels moving on the research enterprise, is often sorely under‑recognised. And of course it is not just women academics but there's definite gender aspect to this, and I think it is absolutely the responsibility of research funders, as I said to expand the realm of possibility and acknowledge all the types of work that go into making. It is not just running the lab, it is not just doing the archival work, there is, there are pastoral and professional service parts of this that are just as important and we need to work hard to find ways of recognising them.
EMILY: I'm Emily Furlong, and through a discussion with other ECRs at the University of Oxford, we came up with the idea of creating low stakes opportunities for staff and students to give feedback to their supervisors, in an effort to encourage a culture where it is normal to discuss what things are going well and how things could be improved. So, I'd like to ask the panel, how can we create mechanisms for people to feel safe giving feedback to their supervisors?
MEGAN: Feedback giving is situated within the wider power and voice culture I suppose, so, it is useful to kind of understand how feedback is heard and supported within the system. So, mechanisms are OK, if by that you mean things like 360s, but they kind of sit in the same category as whistleblowing lines, in that they only function as long as there is an element of psychological safety in the workplace. And ideally you don't need a 360, you don't need a whistleblowing line because you have the conversational habits within the system that mean that people can speak up with feedback as and when it is required. So, I think you need to look at the whole system and culture rather than just focus on some of the mechanisms. And in particular, being able to give and receive feedback really requires the person receiving the feedback to respond well and so one of the things I would particularly emphasise to senior leaders is when they have feedback, even if that feedback isn't given to them in an enormously sort of skilful or articulate way, which it might not be, you know, your response will determine whether you ever receive feedback again. OK. So, you need to be able to welcome that, and respond and appreciate it otherwise you get into this bubble that I was talking about previously.
JASMEET: Hi, my name is Jasmeet Reyat, and I'm a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Birmingham. It is becoming increasingly acknowledged that a diverse group of problem solvers make research institutions better positioned to find innovative solutions to complex challenges posed by sciences. With this in mind, my idea to build a more inclusive research culture is to develop a dedicated funding stream for Black, Asian and ethnic minority scientists, to support their retention in academia and to provide role models for future Black, Asian and ethnic minority students. So, I'd like to ask the panel how can we better support the careers of people currently unrepresented in research?
DAN: Again, another really fantastic question. I'll give you an example of something we did fairly recently in Humanities and Social Science at Wellcome. The Centre for Black Humanities at Bristol University, which is one of the leading centres of academic studies of Black cultural experience and Black cultural creativity, approached us with the issue that black research and humanities are massively underrepresented within the medical humanities, which is a key area of interest for Wellcome in terms of our portfolio. So we worked with them to develop a fairly small and financially fairly modest grant they put together which would give targeted support to researchers in this underrepresented and underserved community to help them seed new work, new research work but also put them in touch with mentors and people who had been successful in the past.
So, part of it is, there's one part that which is about targeting particular support, giving people the freedom to start doing research projects, but also giving them what you might call the soft support in terms of the skills around grant making. But then, that puts part of it on researchers themselves and those of us in positions of power, if you like, in research funders have to think about how we can remove the barriers as well. That we may step up to exclude and underserved communities but we have to work really close I with our colleagues in the diversion and inclusion area to make sure the structural and cultural barriers to success, for minoritized ethnic communities and indeed from all sorts of underserved and under‑represented communities are removed as much as possible because otherwise no matter how much targeted support is given to those communities, those barriers will remain in place and progress won't be made.
And I think actually, I will say this, and this is a personal view, that organisations like Wellcome and other research funders have got to be comfortable in saying that sometimes, it's OK to give community a particular community extra help and support. It is not about changing the goalposts, or you know, lowering standards or lowering expectations, it is about saying actually to get everyone to the same level, sometimes particular communities need extra support and extra resource and that's alright, because the broader strategic aim is to get everyone on to a level playing field because the playing field as we know is deeply, deeply uneven
ADAM: Hello I'm Adam Smith, I'm a programme director at University College London. My idea to create a healthier research culture is to ensure that working hours are a standard item to be discussed at all appraisals and supervisor meetings. So I'd like to ask the panel, how can we reduce pressure on individuals and encourage a sustainable working culture? Thank you.
MEGAN: Now I think the first thing to identify here is that you have to be aware that individuals are experiencing pressure and to be honest that's the first thing that I'm noticing is a little bit what I was talking about in the talk before, this advantage blindness. You know, when we're in a position where things seem OK, it's really easy to assume that other people are also OK. So, we can't be blind to the challenges of others. Remember as you get more senior you actually get more optimistic, and you don't notice the challenges. So, you need to enquire and then enquire again and keep enquiring. Yeah, actually this is quite interesting with Covid when many teams moved virtually, at the beginning quite a few people were commenting favourably because leaders in particular were reaching out and asking people how they were. And actually, that hadn't been something that was particularly common before people moved virtually. Some of the research that I've been doing over the year has suggested that people have sort of stopped asking that a bit and fallen back into the habit of just assuming people are OK. So, how do you know and how do you find out what challenges people are experiencing on your team? So, if you're listening to this, how much time do you spend on the task and the objective of your team? And how much time do you spend enquiring into how far you go about that task and how do people feel supported and able to do that task? And if you're not spending time on that, then don't expect the task bit to work out particularly well. So, we have to have those conversations in order to enable these conversations to go well.
BARBARA: My idea to improve research culture is to capture and analyse the again impact of caring responsibilities on research productivity during lockdown. So, I'd like to ask the panel, how can we improve flexibility to make the sector more inclusive, and in particular in the light of the Covid‑19 pandemic?
DAN: It is worth bearing in mind that it may be too soon to say that we know everything that Covid‑19 has taught us about the flexibility or inflexibility of the research ecosystem. What I will say is there are always different ways of doing things and old working patterns and old expectations when we're forced to change them, can be changed. For example, we're doing this conference virtually rather than meeting in a terrible hotel somewhere drinking weak coffee. What I would say again, and this is about the obligation of research funders is to do proper robust research with the research community, particularly on who caring burdens are falling on heavily during the pandemic, will have had a less productive year and less productive 18 months, how do we factor that in? How can we make, how can we take learnings from this fabulous, slightly stressful world of Zooms and Teams to enable people who have got caring responsibilities or people who live geographically, who are distant geographically to participate? There are always sorts of possibilities opening up for us, but they need to be properly and robustly researched before we all jump in and decide can live on Zoom or Bluejeans forever.
LUCY: Hi I'm Lucy Donaldson, Professor of Sensory Physiology at the University of Nottingham, and I'd like to ask the panel, how would you explain what defines a positive research environment in a single sentence?
DAN: A positive research environment is one where people don't feel bad about not working on a weekend.
MEGAN: An environment where members feel supported and encouraged to speak up with ideas and with challenges, so that they and the research that they do can flourish.
Dan O’Connor, Wellcome, discusses the responsibility of private research charities to drive cultural change.
Megan Reitz, Ashridge Hult Executive Education, explores the importance of speaking up and how we can all play a role in changing workplace culture.
The speakers also answer questions put to them by people from across the research community, including those who have contributed to our ideas forum.