I'm Frances Downey, Head of Research Culture at the UK's largest funding agency, UK Research & Innovation. My pronouns are she/her, I am wearing a blue top, black jacket. I'm a white woman with brown hair and green eyes.
This is my children's craft area behind me. A reminder before we start the session, you can submit your questions by the Q&A function. Please do that, we want lots of questions. And you can put your comments in the chat. I will pose the questions to the speakers once they have finished their opening remark. You can activate closed captions via the box in the lower right-hand corner of your screen and you can also access live captions through the link being shared in the chat. And please, also share your thoughts and comments on social media using the hashtag Reimagine Research.
So, now I'm through all of, that let's get the show started. Today we are focussing on: Which changes are really making a difference to research culture? I think it is a really important point for us to spend a little bit of time reflecting on issues of culture that can feel huge and complex and intractable. And sometimes it can feel impossible. But I think, if we look back to where we have come from, we can see that change is happening. If we think back to 2014 and the publication of the report The Culture of Scientific Research by the Nuffield Council of Bioethics and the 2016 changing expectations programme run by myself at the Royal Society and to 2018, first major conference on research culture and move to today, where once again we are bringing people together, convened by Wellcome to talk about culture, we can see the big leaps that are being made and the growing momentum behind using the idea of culture as a way to holistically address many of the issues we see across the system. I feel really passionately about this. I think culture is a really powerful concept. It gives us a way of dealing with the complexity of the system, and the issues that we are facing. And it is that system's approach that make it really powerful. Understanding that there isn't going to be a silver bullet, but that actually there is going to be many different interventions at many different levels, and that is how we will achieve change. When I talk about those many different interventions, I'm talking about the work at a big high level, systems level, to think about how we incentivise cultures and behaviours, the things my team do at UK RI, for example, and also, I'm talking about the system as we experience it as individuals, working in many parts of that system, and really thinking about the ways in which we can help to make things better.
I think that diversity of experience and activities is really reflected in today's panel. We have got people who are working in different levels across the system, putting forward different types of individuals and today we are really going to be reflecting on how that has led to culture change. So, without further ado, I'm going to invite my panellists to make their opening remarks. And I will just remind them all to please share their pronouns if they are happy to and to give us a brief audio description of themselves. I will go to our first panellist who is Lilian Hunt. Lilian is the EDIS programme lead, which is equality, diversity and inclusion in science and health, and it is a coalition of organisations working within the science and health research sector, committed to improving equality, diversity and inclusion. So, Lilian, if you could pop your camera on and I have a nice easy question for you to start the show: Where does responsibility lie for culture change?
LILIAN: Yeah. Definitely an easy question to start with! Thank you for having me, as Frances said I'm Dr Lilian Hunt. I'm comfortable with they/them pronouns. I'm a white woman with brown hair wearing a white shirt and a blue blazer, with a matching pocket square, if I cannot dress up for this, what is the point of having conferences online? Responsibility for research culture, I think it lies within everyone, it is a collective and collaborative effort. It will only be successful if it is seen as one, however, I want to make sure that we make sure the institutions, organisations and structures that permit and even encourage negative cultures to manifest, there is plenty we can do at an individual level to change behaviours but the environment we build for research, I think it must be supportive of those positive cultures. It must reward and enable them as the current status quo, power dynamics and things like that, that are detriment to researchers, research and the beneficiaries of research. This collective responsibility for research culture, that action within the sector as a whole, is really important but the collaborative efforts underpin the way that EDIS works, for example, is vital to that culture and having that culture responsibility spread throughout the sector. With EDIS, in the opening remarks, the way that members co-ordinate actions and term those ripples of actions into greater ways to change is important to create change across the life science sector within culture and it is an approach that I hope many and I know many of the other panellists will take on as well. It has to be looked at, the systems and structures as well as individual responsibilities as well. I'm happy to have a short opening remark, Frances, I will go back to you.
FRANCES: Thank you, that is great, Lilian. We will move on to our next panellist, who is James Parry. James is the Chief Executive of the UK Research Integrity Office, UKRIO for short. An independent charity offering support to public researchers and organisations to further good practice in academic, scientific and medical research. James, if I could invite you to turn your camera on, please, thank you, James.
JAMES: Good morning.
FRANCES: I thought we had lost you for a moment.
JAMES: I'm not used to this platform. Taking my time.
FRANCES: So, another lovely question for you: Do you think it would be possible to develop and implement a combined code of conduct for research culture issues?
JAMES: Thank you, I'm James Parry Chief Executive of the UKRIO, a charity, an independent advisory body on how to get research right and what to do if things go wrong? We have been involved in research culture issues for some time. I use he and him pronouns, a white middle-aged male with brown hair, desperately in need of a haircut, a salt and pepper beard and well it is a grey checked shirt so it is showing weirdly on my monitor. Do I think it is impossible to possible to develop and implement combined code of conduct with research culture issues? I think it is possible to do it but should we do it? Will it gain things or will it pose problems? Codes of conduct aren't a panacea; they are a starting point. They are useful, they can have basic standards and help define an ethos in an institution or nationally and can illustrate the complexities in trying to achieve difficult aims. And the code can have value as part of a wider toolkit to affect change but they are just one part I chaired the launch of the 2014 Nuffield Council on bioethics research culture report that Frances mentioned. Something that came from that launch was heads of major organisations, the major funders and publishers, heads of Russell Group universities, they could feel powerful to affect change and something that came from the Royal Society's research culture programme, which the UKROI was involved with, working with Frances, was that individual researchers themselves would feel powerful to affect change. Perhaps a code could help by giving us something that we want to aim for, to help harness that. Collective action that Lilian mentioned but equally, a code could lead to tick box, tick boxing, and a compliance culture. And we don't want that. This is about leadership and collective action, as well as empowering individual researchers, whether they are in charge of on organisation or just beginning their research career, to be able to have the time and headspace to grapple with these issues of research culture and collectively make change. A code could be useful, but equally it could take us down a route of - we have ticked the boxes and therefore everything is fine and I think it would be unhelpful. This is long-term action that I don't think a code alone can address. And I'm happy to keep my remarks relatively short, by my standards, so I will stop there. Thank you very much.
FRANCES: Thank you very much, James. So now we are going to be moving on to Katherine Deane. Katherine is a senior lecturer in research at the University of East Anglia and a disability rights' campaigner. She has worked with the UEA, which has resulted in it becoming one of the most accessible campuses in the UK. So, we have heard a lot about collective action and taking a systems approach but Katherine, how did you lead change at ground level to help transform the UEA campus?
KATHERINE: Thanks, Frances. I'm not really ground-level. I'm a senior lecturer in healthcare research, the access ambassador to the University of East Anglia over in East England. My pronouns are she/her I'm white woman with short brown hair and blue-tinted lenses on glasses and I'm wearing a naval floral dress. What may be not so obvious is I'm speaking to you from my bed. My disabilities are playing up. I have a functional movement disorder. You can think of it as having a software fault in my brain. It doesn't signal correctly. That leads to me not walking well, so I have an electric wheelchair that I use. It leads to lots of fatigue, brain fog and occasional fights with depression and anxiety. I led the change on my campus, in terms of accessibility, by first getting my new Vice Chancellor on board. I challenged him at an open forum saying that we had a really inaccessible campus. And weren't even using in-house expertise to change this. So, we had coffee to discuss in a cafe in one of the newest buildings on the campus. So, I was able to say to him - great door, level access, powered up. Shame if you are visually impaired, you are likely to be dazzled by the unshielded lighting as you come in. Shame I can't get into the lecture theatre; the door is too heavy. Shame the stage isn't wheelchair accessible. And on and on. And he just looked at me and said - I have just spent millions of pounds on this building and you are telling me it doesn't work. And I said - yes. Would you like me to help you solve that? So, we put the goal of having a campus that was accessible to all on the University of East Anglia's mission statement. And then the Vice Chancellor ensured the implementation was informed by disabled staff and students. I even wrote a design guide.
So, yes, after five years' work, we now have one of the most accessible campuses in the countries. It just about meets the minimum standards for access. I have just one building on the campus I would describe as fully accessible. It is a work in progress. By raising the visibility of the physical access, this has allowed us to raise the importance of making procedures, policies, teaching and research practices accessible, too. Again, a work in progress. Again, we are in the lead for the UK. And that is shameful. It's been 25 years since the Disability Discrimination Act. 25 years that universities, research institutes and research funders were required, by law, to proactively remove access barriers. Most universities, the Wellcome Trust, MRC, NIHR, have statements about wanting to do research relevant to and important for all people. They value all their staff. They would all remove funding from any research team that said "no women, no blacks, no gays allowed in our lab" and rightly so. It is illegal. It's offensive. And reduces diversity, reduces the quality of the research created. But, please, I really want to know - how is it any different when I can't get into those same labs just because I use wheels, rather than legs to get about? Do tell me, where is the difference? Why do grant-funders not require a minimum standard of access? Why do they need have accessible infrastructure grants? Why do they not automatically offer to cover disabled researchers’ additional costs of conducting research in a generally inaccessible society? Why aren't all universities required to have specific funds to year-on-year, improve the accessibility of their facilities? We are not asking for charity. Or pity. We have the right to work in research. We are valuable. And provide a diversity that will really impact on the quality and the utility of the research done. We need our lives that support us and challenge these issues, too. I have given lots of documents to you, on the webpage, for this conference, on how to improve accessibility. And I'm available for "paid" consultation. I look forward to these conversations. Thank you.
FRANCES: Many thanks, Katherine. I think you are quite rightly raising some challenging questions about us all. Thinking about that and the amazing progress you made at UEA, which, as you say, is not enough, I will move on to Marcus Munafo to reflect next on which aspects of research culture are making the fastest progress, thank you, Marcus?
MARCUS: Thanks, Frances. Thanks for inviting me to be part of this fantastic panel. I'm really looking forward to it. I'm Marcus Munafo my pronouns are he and him. I'm a white middle-aged male. I have brown hair and brown eyes, wearing a blue shirt today. So, which aspects of research culture are making the fastest progress? I want to pick up on two points, because there is a lot going in this space, and that is fantastic. One thing that really key is that the grassroots community of researchers, especially early career researchers but not exclusively, have really, I think, found that voice in this debate. I think that has been helped by the fact that it's much easier now for the concerns that researchers at the grassroots have to be communicated. Fiona Fiddler at the University of Melbourne has written about the fact that there have been other times in the past where the research community has reached the point where it thinks something must be done, but ultimately very little is changed. And she argues that that is partly because there wasn't this ability to create a community. I think we now have the technology, social media platforms, that are allowing people who are geographically dispersed to come together and feel that they can create a virtual community and through that, a voice. I think that is one of the things that is really changing and through the UK Networks, we are going to comply to amplify those voices through the networks we have, and we will be trying to create partnerships between local networks leads and management level to advocate for the grassroots researches and also listen to them. The other area I think where there is real change, there is a lot of observation at the moment. A lot is technology-driven but not exclusively. We are seeing the UKRI CV format. It is a work in progress but I think in many ways, it captures much of what we want to see which is incentivised and there is a huge amount of innovation when it comes to transparency and research, open research, open scholarship and the tools that allow people to work in that way, which in turn allows people to demonstrate their contributions in a more granular and nuanced way, so we are not just focussing on the papers we produce and those really quite antiquated ways of capturing people's activity. So, I think those things together, particularly, are really powerful, really exciting and, I think much of the reason why we are having meetings like this one.
FRANCES: Thank you. Now I will move on to our final speaker, before I do, I will remind you, please submit your questions through the Q&A function, we are getting lots of nice ones already. So, if we can keep those coming in. Annette Bramley is with us today and she is part of a research alliance between the eight most research-intensive universities in the North of England; Durham, Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool, Sheffield, Newcastle, Lancaster and York.
You get the last question for the opening remarks for the panel: How do we get institutions and organisations to work together and share good practice?
ANNETTE: Thanks, and hello I’m a director of N8. My pronouns are she and her and I have dark hair and lockdown roots and I'm wearing a navy blouse with silver stars. Thank you to Frances and to Wellcome for putting on this amazing festival and I have been really enjoying it and it is a treat to take part. In answering the challenging and wide-ranging question, I think it is worth taking a moment to think about organisations and why they might want to work together. So, for my perspective, they are not just the university or Vice Chancellor's officers, they are individuals in all sorts of roles, they are people like you and me and Frances and technicians and professional services and research software engineers and knowledge exchange fellows and I could go on and on. And they want to work together, and share good practice around research culture, there is something in it for them and for them it is important, reflective culture and behaviour we need to tap into people's emotional and rational side, through their values and through the values of the organisations they work in. And I thought it was really compelling what Katherine was saying, really you could hear the values and the emotional side of that coming through and it really brought me into the points she was making. So, I have a secret manifesto for encouraging people to work across and within all types of organisations in our R&D system. I will illustrate that with some of the things we have been doing in N8. Particularly over the past three years, working on research culture and careers. So, my three things are: Crew up with people that share your values. Lower the bar to getting started. And make it easy to change habits. So, crewing up with people that share your value is important because, you know, you need to join with people that are going to think and feel the same way as you do about issues. So, the N8 is a partnership of research-intensive universities and we have a common value around research excellence. And the senior leader of N8 share common concerns for research careers and culture. They agree the situation is a problem. None of them have brought the answer to fixing it. Sharing ideas, learning perspectives, helping us work together, bet brings a better research culture for everyone. A better research culture should lead to research excellence.
If you have a great idea when you are miserable, bullied or afraid about what they will do when their contract runs out, the second one is lower the bar to getting started. It can be tempting to have your research culture as a huge problem and it needs someone more powerful or more senior or from the outside to fix it. That is just not true T needs all of us to fix it. Really effective behaviour change comes from small steps consistently taken, over time and everyone has some agency to take some small steps. And so, for the N8, some of our small steps as a partnership have been sponsoring events that bring technicians and post docs together across the N8 to share experiences and practice, provide peer-to-peer support. We have run workshops with health professionals across the N8, to share good practice and those people would not get together outside this opportunity. We have run social media campaigns that celebrate and highlight the contributions of different types of job functions with within our partnership.
My final point in my manifesto is to make it easier to change a habit. One way of looking at cultures as a collection of organisation habits and rituals, if you are ever tried to start a new habit or kick an old one, you know how difficult it'll be, we can help ourselves and our organisation by making it easier to adopt the new habit and by making it harder, unless we want it sit back into our old ways. The leaders can show the way by acting as role makers and showcasing change makers. Organisations and partnership makers like the N8 or Midlands Innovation or the Yorkshire universities, we can help make habits easier in building relationships and trust so people can share what has worked and what not worked. Funders can help by providing resources to universities by sharing knowledge, reducing the opportunity for collaboration. What is the paper we are not writing if we are in a room sharing our knowledge, for example, and by supporting intermediate organisations like mine who provide an important facilitating and enabling role? And, just to finish up, bringing people together is the easy part and people out there are impatient for change, it is really important we challenge that into positive action. The reality is that change will come but it'll only come with time and through the patient and consistent practice of new habits and sharing our tactics and strategies for making them stick. With that I will hand back to Frances.
FRANCES: Thank you, if you can keep your camera on and I will invite all the panellists to keep their cameras on, so we can see everyone's lovely faces. So, we have had a question which I think is very pertinent to a lot of what is said, so far. Marcus and Annette in particular, you have already brought up excellence. And this question is really thinking about: How do we propose to win over those academics who prioritise scientific excellence over positive empowerment and leadership development? Katherine, is it OK if I come to you on that one, first?
KATHERINE: Yes. Sorry. Could you say the question again, sorry?
FRANCES: How do we win over academics who prioritise scientific excellence over positive empowerment and leadership development? For example, I would say a lot of the stuff you are doing, you are probably not getting much recognition for in terms of your career prospects.
KATHERINE: I think that is the understatement of the century. I have been explicitly told that I am hazarding my promotion prospects. I am hazarding my entire career; I am making it risk my next REF submission; although this one is acceptable if they gave an A on it. This year I have spent a lot of the year providing COVID advice because COVID reacts with disability in a complex way. So, I have been providing a huge amount of advice for the university, unions, museum sectors, theatres, the local council; everybody I can talk to, saying - this is what you have to do sensibly, please ignore Boris and just be really, really careful and doing it in very practical ways and in great detail, because that is what you need to do. The detail is key and that is what we are needing to do. That is practical. None of this is referable. None is a metric that will tick a box on my promotion prospects but I have saved lives this year. Because I bothered to step up and say - this is a damn thing that is really important and I'm buggered if I'm going to be the person that says, you did not step up. And my campus didn't have a single outbreak in the teaching zone - in halls of residents, yes - because I put together an evidence-based document by saying there is a damn biological mechanism of spread and we need to be wearing masks now. We have been since September. We are one of the few universities in the country that did so, because the Government advice was - teaching is magic and will protect us all from catching COVID. You have to pick up the troublemakers like me sometimes and go, OK, what the fuck do we have to do? And because I'm a troublemaker, I don't fit your metrics.
FRANCES: It is a really tangible example, isn't it, of really impactful work? Perhaps not being seen in the criteria that we measure excellence already.
KATHERINE: That is it. I have colleagues that were doing systematic reviews. And they were going - there isn't the evidence and I was going - screw the evidence, look at the biological mechanism, you have to do the advice now. So, they get the credit, because they did a nice systematic review, I don't because I just save lives.
FRANCES: James, could we have a chat about how you have been thinking about this as well in the research integrity space?
JAMES: Sure. I think there are two things. Firstly, following on from what Katherine says, this stuff is important work and should be recognised. This is improving research culture, and improving lives. It gets you better research, gets more engaged research and gets people in the profession who otherwise wouldn't be here and keeps people in the procession who otherwise would be driven out. This stuff isn't recognised whether it is REF returnable, or not, it needs to go do them because sometimes if you make it REF returnable, that... But this gets you better research, better researchers in any field. It is in any field. The Nuffield report mentioned was about scientific research in the UK. My background is archaeology, not technically a science, but that report spoke to me and I know it spoke to people outside the UK. We hold monthly webinars and there is a real great presentation, from Leanne Hobson at the University of Oxford and she talks about how she tries to infiltrate a healthy research culture in her team and how it leads to better science. The processors, you say, more about the science, and don't care about the culture well actually the two are the same, they are intertwined and they will help you get a better team and even if you do the work on your own, you are still collaborating with colleagues, you have to teach and manage people, it helps you in that way as well. It is about good science but it has to be incentivised, we work in a publish or perish culture, we cannot help keep on with the career treadmill and also do all this other stuff as well. We have to people time, space resources and recognition, this is just as important as being on a lab, being on a site. Being in an archive. This is valuable work. It needs to be recognised, as such.
FRANCES: Absolutely. I think when people think about future research cultures, one of the things they really start to reflect on is around open science. We have had a question on that. So, Lilian, perhaps I could invite you in here. What culture changes would you regard as essential for making open science work?
LILIAN: Yeah, I mean I think that is a huge thing. I think, you know, that is great in terms of the idea of moving towards open science. I think some of the barriers we definitely see coming up more and more with that shift, actually, is the concept of prestige and competition permeating the research culture at the moment all the way from the top down, therefore when we are doing research, thinking about what actually incentivised closed research is probably a good way of thinking about this and it is really that concept that is sort of having your name to papers, having your name to work, the awards, the research funding, the way that we represent the work we have done in research as well and so the competition building; it is competing for grants, money, funding, everything like that. I think that, in itself, within the various structures and how that concept - and I think really that is the way to describe it - throughout that whole process from undergrad PhD, all the way into different research fields and roles is such a huge barrier to then opening up the field entirely and opening up the way that we work, so it is more collaborative team science and actually celebrating and looking at every opportunity for collaboration, rather than an opportunity to compete or work, I guess, against each other. So, in my idea, I think that needs to be completely re-switched around in order to really get to a point where open science is valued so much more. We have made some great process in the bio-sciences in terms of pre-print surveys and re-registering research, including clinical trials but it has to extend further than that, it has to be completely, more about the idea that we all win together, rather than individually. And the problem is, the structures, the very structures and system we are using, don't support that. And the people who are in power at those higher up levels have succeeded in those structures, so what incentives are there for them to break down the things that prop them up as well? So, this whole sort of thing just sort of, you know, works in this wheel, there needs to be something that replaces it now and open science is great opportunity for that.
FRANCES: Thank you, Marcus, I know you have thought a lot about open science over the years in your work with the reproducibility network, did you have anything else to add to that?
MARCUS: To Katherine's point, you know, often the reason why, you know, she describes herself as "difficult" and I would describe myself as that in some context as well and the reason people are difficult is because they care and we want to keep those people in the system exactly because they care about making it better. And that is really important. And then we need to think about how we can create a framework that allows that. I think open science is a good thing to focus on, it shifts the emphasis away from outputs and on to process. I think if we can get the process right, which is deeply embedded within culture, in much the way that James was describing, then we can trust that the outputs will be solid. We will still need to evaluate them and keep an eye on that but we should shift the focus away from output and away, for example, from, this is my paper or migrant. And much more on to - this is how we do our work in terms of looking after people and in terms of looking after data or in terms of all of the facets of open science and the wider elements of culture and get the process right so that the outputs are right. Then think about how to incentivise, those aspect of the process we think are important. I think things like the UN CV format to emphasise projects and grants, saying what you have done for people, how you develop people's careers, how you put in place strong values and standards in the group you are part of and strong processes and all the rest of t we do need to incentivise it but for me the fundamental shift is away from output and on to process. Of course, then you need to evaluate. Lots of things we are coming up with, are good ideas, but we all know that good ideas don't always turn out as intended and there can be unintended consequences, we need to invest and evaluate on an ongoing basis what is working. It is not a static thing, we cannot look at where we are and say - let's fix it, look at what we have done and come back in another 400 years and have another look. We need to always be reflecting on how can we do better?
FRANCES: Absolutely. I think as well as that diversity of output we also and some of you have talked about this already, talk about the diversity of people. It is not the lone researcher, it is about the many people who support the rev search being done, Annette if I could address the next question to you it is well about the professional services staff. I remember in the opening comments you talk about some of these you have brought those together. The question is, how can professional service staff, involved in supporting research, for example, research and safety officers, research safety officers, etc, HR staff, be involved in discussions and shaping change within research culture?
ANNETTE: Crikey. And I think a lot, you know, on that depends on your own individual universities. But I think the place to start is within your own teams. And somebody else has put a question about practical steps within your own team. Start with small steps in your own teams and explore that with your line managers, have a discussion about that. Or go and have a chat, or a coffee with, you know, with somebody who you know is interested in that, in your department, or send an e-mail to someone saying - thank you for something positive that they have done that supports really good research. You know, really small actions and steps that we can all take to, you know, to reinforce good behaviour. You might want to invite one into your team to talk to the rest of professional services, the rest of your colleagues about what it is like. And the research culture, or to share that. It is really difficult to know, you know, without being close to... [distortion of sound] people on this Webinar, so many people passionate on this agenda within universities, that you will find allies, that is the key thing, I think.
FRANCES: Absolutely. Katherine, we have had a question specifically for you. One of the things I'm conscious on with supporting researchers who have diverse needs is their massive administrative burden. To explain their situation and fill in forms and justify differences and request what they need. What would help, in your opinion and experience, to relieve that?
KATHERINE: For a start, assign them somebody from admin; assign them somebody who is good at filling in the forms. I hate those forms. I'm disastrous, I get wound up to the max and have anxiety attacks about them. Give them to somebody who is really good at filling in forms and assign them. ideally somebody who knows the system, knows how to fill in an Access to Work form and who knows how to explain the various things and can sit down and really form a relationship with somebody and just genuinely assist. So, you are not the only person doing it. But the other thing I would do is to challenge - why the hell are they having to fill in most of the form anyway? Why isn't the institution stuff accessible anyway? Why isn't there a lift in that building and therefore they have to apply to have an office on the ground floor? Why are the doors all so heavy that they are at risk of dislocating their shoulder every time they push through from a wheelchair? Why aren't the lighting appropriate? Why isn't there a sound loop. You know, what the hell?
Let's change all of that, first. Let's raise the bar, really substantially, by the way. Universities are massively appalling I'm afraid. They are way behind. They are happy to meet the minimum building standards for accessibility and I'm afraid those suck. They are pretty much; you can tick the box if you have a level access front door that is powered up and an accessible loo of minimum size. Yeah, you have met it, great. Unfortunately, of course what we actually have is a set of universities that actually only 10% have a toilet. Well, actually only 10% have a changing place accessible toilet. This is a toilet with a bench and a hoist, to allow somebody who needs that level of need to be changed, safely and with dignity. Now, can you imagine having to choose your university on the basis of whether you could go to the loo or not? I think you will agree, this is maybe a lower standard. And that maybe we should be improving that rate. If we carry on at the same rate, we will be 250 years before we have a toilet per university including the multiple universities that have multiple sites. No, the standards I'm aiming for, for my university, we should have a toilet within a five-minute roll of anywhere on the campus. You know, it really is, our standards we accept are so low that they enforce the barriers and it means you have to fill in those forms. We could knock out 90% of those forms because we do it already, we have it already, we provide it already. And that is where we should be. And then the last 10% is - for your specific needs we need to tweak this. We are not there at the moment, so please provide admin.
FRANCES: I think you are absolutely right and when I spoke to Katherine before today's event, I feel like she certainly turned me into an ally, I started rooting around my own organisation and I hope she is having the same inspiring effect on everyone today. Reflecting on the things you are talking about in terms of physical infrastructure and also the governance infrastructure, we have had a question coming in to really think about - how could an organisation's infrastructure and governance be redesigned to help support researcher culture change? I think that is a really interesting question. Marcus, did you have any reflections on that?
MARK: Sorry, say the question again?
FRANCES: How can an organisation's infrastructure and governance be redesigned to help support research culture change?
MARCUS: So, I mean one place to start is the incentives held within an institution and many of the incentives are held within institutions, the promotion criteria and hiring criteria, that kind of thing. You are seeing much more diversity in how those look, with organisations starting to pay more attention to things like open research practices and the extent to which you have nurtured the careers of others and that kind of thing and others remaining and more rooted and focussed on grants and outputs that. Is one concrete way in which you can incentivise behaviours, if your career is likely to progress, accelerate, through working in a particular way that is captured by the promotion and hiring criteria, you will start to align how you work with that, one would hope, again this needs to be evaluated. The challenge there, though, is if one institution starts focussing on let's say open research and people work in that way in their institution because it is incentivised, when they move to another institution that haven't done that, they will be at a disadvantage. We need to think of the sector as a whole, rather than individual institutions and try to co-ordinate that activity across institutions, so you are not creating a barrier, implicitly by incentivising one thing in one place and another thing in another place. So, there needs to be that coordination. I think what matters needs to be informed by the voices of the community. What matters is going back to the grassroots and asking what matters and what community they want to create and get the incentives right to Foster that.
FRANCES: James, did you want to come in?
JAMES: Following on what Marcus said and Katherine's opening remarks. I think finding out from the people on the ground what are the problems they are having to deal with and what are the barriers in doing the best research they can, and in their research career, what help and resources do they need? People ask the questions and I think often the responses are that - I have been here for years and no-one has asked me that. The people at the centre are research and integrity teams and they are traditionally a minority of administrators and some universities have one or two, and they will all be working hard. If they can have time, space and resources, they can lead it, working with the other administrators to do that; help and foster a sense of community and recognise that different types of academic discipline also have different needs and that culture is something we can play a role in shaping.
There needs to be people buying in on it and working with it and helping with the incentives that Marcus mentioned.
FRANCES: Think being different groups of people in the system. Lilian, we have a question on early career researchers, which I will send your way. It seems to me that many of the barriers to changing habits are most keenly felt by the early career researcher, where power imbalances and job insecurity is at the fore. How can we lower those barriers for changing habits without changing the entire structure of academia for ECRs? That is tough.
LILIAN: It is a tough one, also, especially the last caveat of not changing the entire structure for ECRs. I would argue for changing the entire structure for ECRs and late workers as well. The way we fund is very segmented, for example. The short-term contracts we are heavily reliant on, in the ECR framing. Those short-term contracts have huge implications for people already at a disadvantage for various reasons. I'm sure Katherine will agree, people with disabilities and disabled people, if you are on a short-term contract, changing institutions and where you are, is nigh on impossible if you put a lot of effort into making an organisation accessible. In addition to that, a lot of the people heavily involved in the research culture movement, equality, diversity and inclusion panels or staff networks are likely to be in the ECR pool of individuals as well. Because you see a lot of commitment from those who are facing the challenges as they exist that. Additional burden of bringing people into that and supporting others, because you are opening up to this empathetic viewpoint, in addition to applying for more and more funding in the short-term precarious contracts, is it is real problem and it is fundamental to that huge disparity in how this is felt between different individuals.
And then, on top of that, you have to consider survivorship bias, those who are in the system have made it through the system there. Who hasn't made it there? Where are those people and why haven't they made it there? Again, that is the group we also need to talk to, to figure this stuff out. We could create a system that is more supportive of those, that is managing to make it work, just about, in the system, and that still leaves out a huge pool of individuals who aren't able to follow their research paths from undergraduate, for example, or into undergraduate. Funding is a huge call and we need to look at how we are doing on short-term funding, how at the moment we don't have any bridging funding as standard, so that change from ECR into your own PI role, you know, what happens in that gap? Are you stopping and starting? Or is it, could you get something to sort of, the last year or two of a post-doc and the first two years of setting up your own group? Is that something we could look at? Are there ways to create stability for those that need it. One of the things I will quickly say before I pass over is this pandemic has shown us where there were already cracks in the system and who is suffering as a result. There has been so much be instability, on top of COVID for people in their academic careers. People have been advocating for this for a long time already, now it is taking more people we will probably see more changes, that is great, I'm happy for change, but we need to lock down who it is, that was already having these negative impacts from the result of the way we fund and from the results of the way we structure careers, because those people have needed help for a long time already, now we sort of can broaden that a little bit further as well.
FRANCES: That is great, thank you. Lilian. Next, I wanted to bring you in but we are also beginning to run short on time, so I will give you another question to get through as many as we can, Annette. And I'm sure we know where we are in the REF cycle and I'm sure all of the N8 universities are thinking about this, that we have been talking about a lot of things here and ways in which people can improve a culture within institutions. And so this question is: How can we make all of this count for REF via the environment statement? What steps are needed?
ANNETTE: So, I'm in two minds about that. I will tell you why I'm in two minds. REF is a big lever; it has an enormous impact on the way that universities behave: You only have look at the impact to see that. The downside is that you then make the estates culture into something that the universities are competing on. And why is the line between healthy rivalry which drives up standards and unhealthy competition where people then don't want to share good practice and don't want to share between them. And also, REF, what is it, eight years cycle time? Do we want to wait that long before we really start seeing changes? You know, as I say, I'm in two minds. Think REF is a huge thing, but really, we want to get started doing stuff now, we don't want to wait for the next REF cycle to be making changes. And quickly, like Lilian's point, I agree with some of what Lilian says but I do worry, you know that we have to be careful what we wish for in some things. You know. We don't want a situation where, you know, you can only have a career in a certain type of academia when somebody falls off the perch at the other end. We want people to come in and out and the careers, you know, like in the research councils, or in organisations like N8 or in business to be valuable. And I worry that sometimes we tie ourselves in knots with some of, that notwithstanding all the stuff she is completely right about, all the cracks in the system but I think we have to be careful and because we have a complex system, I think it is important we take small steps and look at what the impacts of that are and then take another step and then take another step and get on this upwards spiral. That is probably a bit long, sorry.
FRANCES: That is OK. So, we are now beginning to come to the end of the session. I have a final question to ask all of our panellists, before we finish up today. So, based on the conversations we had and, you know, a lot of the great questions that have come in from the audience: What is one action you would like the audience to put into practice tomorrow, to improve research culture? And I will go around the same order that we started in. So, Lilian, if you could kick us off, please?
LILIAN: Yeah, no problem at all. Quickly on that note, I completely agree, Annette, the way the research sits, we are focused on academia in universities but it should be embedded in more organisations and roles. I resonate with your point there, for what we wish for. Frances, you mentioned at the beginning of the session that there isn't a silver bullet or one way to turn things around overnight but individually I think people have the ability to do things to help shift the establishments' practices and mostly that can be around considering where you have power and influence as an individual and also as be an organisation, if you are sitting within one and then, looking at how you can leverage that and sharing it and reflecting on how your experience is going to be different from other people's within that, as well. With an aim to redistribute that power. Primarily sort of as an individual, fighting the urge to compete in the way that research has been set up, as a competition for prestige is integral, instead of looking for collaborations and a way to share success, in an individual way, is what we can do the most.
FRANCES: James would you like to go next?
JAMES: As I said when I started, UKROI is an advisory service, we have been running it from 2006. We often get people coming to us with what they think are obvious questions. But they are often coming with us to stuff they say - I can't ask my colleagues this because I feel a bit foolish or I don't work in an environment where I don't think anyone else would know what I'm going through. You get so many questions that are similar. So, I would encourage people to talk and to listen to colleagues because these are issues that we are all facing in different ways. They manifest themselves differently according to our discipline, the type of research organisation we are in, our or career stage but we are all dealing with this stuff. I think collegiate atmosphere, you know, is really important to infiltrate, to talk, to find out what help, you need to be the best researcher you need to be and to lobby for that if it is not within your institution. There will be some help you don't know about but collectively we can affect change. As researchers, we are the people who staff grant panels, who staff committee, who do peer review, we all have a part where we can play and it can seem very hard to affect change on your own and we can often - to affect change on your own and we can feel isolated in the problems we are facing but talking to each other and seeking help from each other and lobbying the help, when it is not available, can really make a difference.
FRANCES: Thank you, Katherine would you like to speak next?
KATHERINE: Just some really practical things. Put your head in the door of the next accessible toilet you pass and check whether or not the red cord is actually tied up or not. If it is, go on to the Euan's guide, a Trip Advisor for people with disabilities and you can get them to send you free, little cards that you slide on to the red cord that say "please don't tie this red cord up, it is really essential for somebody if you fall off the loo" basically; they say it much more elegantly. You know what, we did that across our entire university, put those red cards on every single red cord in the university. It almost overnight stopped them being tied up. And I think sometimes with disability, it feels like it is big and it is complex and there are so many things you should be thinking about, but actually, often it is really simple, little things that make the difference. That you are the one chasing estates because the powered door has broken down, that you are the one that is chasing a grant funder to say - come on, we only have one step, surely you can pay for a ramp as well. That you are the one supporting your disabled colleague and not rolling your eyes in a meeting and saying - oh, God they are asking for "specials" again. No, we bring a different voice and by the way, without our voice, we can really come to some really interesting research decisions. So, were you aware there is currently a drug licence to lower blood sugar in people with diabetes? Now, why do we want to lower blood sugar in diabetes? Mainly because of cardiac complications. Guess what the main adverse event of that drug is? Cardiac complications! Why the... Is that drug licensed? Because people with disabilities, people with diabetes were not involved in the development and the licencing of that drug. And we keep doing a huge amount of misdirected, misprioritised research because the voices of 20% of our community are not being involved in the process. That is me.
FRANCES: Thank you, Katherine.
MARCUS: I mean I was going to say very similar things to both James and Katherine. To an extent culture is us. And that means that we have a great deal of agency. It is a collective action problem but if we all agent together, we can make a real difference. So, what I would say is - do whatever you think will make the biggest difference to where you are, to how you work. Also, remember, there are very few, I think malicious actors, I think the vast majority of people are doing the best that they can, limited by the skills that they have, the culture that they grew up, in the survivorship bias that colours their thinking and their interpretation of the world unconsciously. But one of the things we can all do is tell people what we want and what we need and what has to change and also ask people what they need and want and want to see changed and how we can help them that. Can go in all directions, it doesn't need to follow traditional power hierarchies. Many people will be acceptable to that. It is a collective action. We all have agency and we can be those agents of change.
FRANCES: I think you are right. Sometimes institutions can seem big and faceless but I think you are right, there are very few malicious actors, certainly in my experience, everyone is doing their best. Annette, do you want to finish us off?
ANNETTE: It is really hard going last on this one, I mean so many brilliant points being raised already. I would just also go back to my comment about thanking people and positive feedback for people that are making positive changes. Or even, you know, little ones. You know, what is it, we need five times as much positive feedback as negative feedback in order to move forward. And you can bet your life the really seen area academics in your universities don't get much positive feedback. You know, the difference that a nice e-mail makes, that says, "Really appreciate the fact you have done this or spoke about that or that you encouraged this." That doesn't take much effort but really makes somebody's day and makes them much more likely to do that kind of behaviour again.
FRANCES: Thank you. And I would just like to give huge thanks to the panel. It's been a really interesting, brilliant talk. I think we were all overwhelmingly agreeing with each other. And we have got one minute left, so it is just left really to thank the audience today. Just a final reflection from me, really, you know, when I talk to people about cull tour, I really reflect on, as I think the whole final has today, how change will only happen if it is a collective endeavour. It is not about one funder changing something over here or a research institution hearing something over there, it is really about many people coming together across the system to think about doing things differently. And I think today we have heard from a really brilliant group of individuals who have all brought today, who have come together to talk about their experience and I think time and time again, we have heard about the importance of engaging. Of listening. Of empathising. Of respecting people's viewpoints and expertise and, also, then figuring out a way to move forward collectively. And for me, that remains the ongoing lesson around culture. You know, in the last year we have seen that norms of behaviour and culture can all change very quickly in a short space of time and proof, really, that if we collectively decide to do something, things will start to change. So, many thanks to everyone for joining us today and submitting your questions. They have been great. And also taking part in the conversation on Twitter.
I also wanted to thank our two signers, Russell and Peter. I have never been live signed before. So, this was very exciting. And thank you to everyone at the Wellcome who has made it happen. The technical staff working behind the scenes and also Ben and Erika, who have all done a sterling job emailing us all and making sure were here. Enjoy the rest of the conference and I look forward to hearing about future initiatives that have been inspired by today's speakers. Thank you very much.
In this live workshop at our Reimagine Research Culture Festival, panellists shared what's already working in their journey to build a better culture.
- Chair: Frances Downey, UK Research and Innovation
- Annette Bramley, N8 Research Partnership
- James Parry, UK Research Integrity Office
- Katherine Deane, University of East Anglia
- Lilian Hunt, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion in Science and Health
- Marcus Munafò, University of Bristol.