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Launch of new research culture toolkit for Research & Innovation Enabling and Support staff

Today sees the launch of a culture toolkit that facilitates research & innovation (R&I) enablers to engage in discussions about R&I culture. At Queen’s we are incredibly proud to have been part of the development of this key culture change tool.

The R&I enabler

‘R&I enablers’ is an umbrella term used to describe those who facilitate research & innovation. Many roles, grades and areas across the sector are R&I enablers; from accountants and administrators, to technicians and teachers. These roles influence how research and innovation happens, is funded, communicated, archived, experienced and maintained. R&I enabler roles can be entirely focussed on R&I – for example funding development, or can be part of a wider remit – for example, librarians.

Shared experiences, shared solutions

The toolkit, an evolved version of the Wellcome Trust Reimagine Research Café Culture kit, is designed by R&I enablers for R&I enablers. It aims to give a voice to those historically absent from research culture discussions, despite evidence that indicates they are experiencing many of the same issues that are highlighted in researcher surveys. It is therefore important that R&I enablers are part of these discussions to help shape a solution to a shared experience, to ensure sustainable and inclusive change for the benefit of all.

However, there are areas where R&I enablers have community-specific issues and experiences. This toolkit illuminates and consolidates some of the most common R&I enabler experiences in one place to help provoke solution-based discussions, which will empower agents of change within and for R&I enabling communities.

Workshop pilot at Queen’s

As part of efforts to advance this work, and our broader commitments in the Research Culture Action Plan, we have launched a pilot staff network for research and innovation enabling and support staff and we recently piloted the café culture workshop at Queen’s. The event, attended by over 80 colleagues spanning various departments, roles and grades, sought to better understand and address the issues faced by research and innovation enabling and support staff.

Attendees participated in a series of interactive polls to understand high-level issues and challenges, followed by detailed discussions in breakout groups focussed on developing possible solutions to some of these. Through our discussions at the event, some common themes emerged:

  • Terminology: The use of the term ‘support’ for this cohort is deemed problematic, and potentially underplays the role that they play in the wider research ecosystem. It was noted that there was increasing convergence around the term ‘enabler’ in the sector, and it was agreed that the pilot staff network could consider this further.
  • Communication and Collaboration: It was felt that there is a lack of understanding of different roles and responsibilities between departments, and participants related challenges in identifying appropriate colleagues for advice, support and collaboration. There are concerns that this can result in duplication or dilution of time and effort across the institution, which can create confusion for academic and research staff seeking support. It was agreed that the staff network could develop improved communication channels for information sharing and exchange, with a focus on breaking down siloes across different faculties, schools and directorates.
  • Collaboration and ‘Them and us’ culture: Participants felt that there is a lack of visibility and recognition of the role played by enabling and support roles within the research and innovation community. Participants fed back that they are sometimes perceived as ‘blocking’ research activity when carrying out their duties, and that this can lead to a difficult ‘them and us’ culture with academic and research colleagues.
  • Workload Management: Participants fed back concerns that workloads can often increase over time as new requirements are identified, and that single points of failure can emerge when experienced colleagues leave the University. It was agreed that improved collaboration between teams and better succession planning would build more resilience into the research ecosystem. It was also noted that, in some cases, the roles of enabling and support staff are not costed onto research grants and this results in increased workload for permanent staff with substantial existing duties.
  • Career Advancement/Planning: It was felt that the community would benefit from some tailored career development for research and innovation enabling and support staff, to complement the existing offering for professional services colleagues. It was noted that the new staff network could play a role in identifying opportunities, and could work with sector groups such as ARMA to better understand what is offered at other institutions.

These themes and possible solutions will be discussed at the first meeting of a steering group for the pilot staff network in June 2022. The group will prioritise activities for 2022-23 and consider how best to facilitate improved communication and engagement within and beyond this cohort.

Everyone can be an agent of change

This toolkit is the product of a collaboration between professional bodies representing R&I enablers who are passionate about giving a voice to their community. We are delighted that our pilot (along with a similar event at the University of Glasgow) helped refine the finished product.

It is specifically designed to facilitate discussions around experiences of R&I culture by R&I enablers, is freely available to download from collaborator websites. It includes clear instructions, facts, figures and quotes to generate discussion, and a framework to identify solutions and pathways to realise these.

Be part of the change

Because everyone contributes to and benefits from a positive and inclusive R&I culture, we want every role and every career stage, in every corner of the sector, to engage in this.

Your voice matters. Your experience and skills are valid. You have the power to change the culture you and others experience.

Share this with others and help spread the word by using #RIEnabler on social media


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