Engaged Research: Why does this matter?

Professor Richard Holliman, The Open University.

Professor Richard Holliman, The Open University.

Under the leadership of Sandy Oliver, Sophie Duncan and Pat Gordon-Smith, UCL Institute of Education, NCCPE and UCL IOE Press are running an all-day seminar on 7 May 2019.

We will be discussing progress to date, and the possible futures for Research for All, an open-access peer-reviewed international journal that launched in 2017.

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The OU at 50: redefining openness and engagement

The Open University, 50th Anniversary #OU50

The Open University, 50th Anniversary #OU50

The Open University is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

To mark this landmark birthday, the OU is building an exciting programme of events and activities that will shine a light on the staff, students, donors and partners who have shaped our much-loved institution.

Select #OU50 for more details about this programme.

When the OU was founded, it was underpinned by a mission for social justice that informs everything we do; to be open to people, places, methods and ideas.

Since that time, the ways that we realise our mission have changed. We now talk of open and engaged research, involving stakeholders, end-users and members of the public over any or all stages of a research process.

Professor Mary Kellett, Vice-Chancellor of The Open University.

Professor Mary Kellett, Vice-Chancellor of The Open University.

“We remain committed to creating the conditions where high-quality engagement can flourish and where excellence is recognised and valued. In embedding the principles, values and reflective practices of engagement within The Open University, we want to ensure that our academic work has relevance in wider society, embracing an ‘ecology of openness’ aligned with our long-standing mission to promote social justice.”

Professor Mary Kellett, Vice-Chancellor of The Open University

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Riff-ing again on the REF Consultation

Professor Richard Holliman, The Open University.

Professor Richard Holliman, The Open University.

The Research Excellence Framework is an exercise in identifying and rewarding excellence in research. It is, of course, also about resource allocation and therefore longer-term planning for research.

Hence, whether we like it or not, REF 2021 (like research assessments before it) will result in cultural and organisational changes in UK universities. For those who do well, REF 2021 will lead to changes, effects and (we hope) benefits to the ways these UK universities, Units of Assessment (UoAs) and the researchers working for them conduct research, and how they engage with non-academic beneficiaries and derive social and/or economic impacts from it. For those who do badly, research will have to be funded from sources other than QR; either that or this work could be de-prioritised.

Research Excellence Framework - REF 2021.

Research Excellence Framework – REF 2021.

Given the power of the REF to shape research priorities, it is important that the assessment system is equitable, and that the guidance promotes rigour, fairness, transparency and consistency. Although it doesn’t specifically say so in the documentation, it seems reasonable to assume that the current REF 2021 Consultation is an attempt to promote these principles.

It’s fair to note up front, therefore, that this post is prompted by some significant concerns about the current guidance and what it could mean, in particular, for the research impact agenda.

My principle concern in what follows is that the REF should not be about ‘boundary work’; setting up de facto restrictive practices prior to the assessment process that unfairly favours one set of impact-generating practices over another.

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Searching for ‘diamonds’ in the rough

During the summer holidays I completed a five-week Nuffield Research Placement. This took place at the Open University in the School of Environment, Earth and Ecosystem Sciences (EEES).

My project was to assist in exploring the nature of gypsum crystals found in deep-sea sediments from monsoon region.

A microscope view of gypsum crystals.

A microscope view of gypsum crystals.

My aims were to:

  • Investigate ocean sediments;
  • Identify crystals (quartz or something else?) and other marine, terrestrial and minerals formed during the sediment deposition, using a binocular microscope;
  • Determine the relative abundance of crystals with respect to other known fragments, such as pyrite and biogenic components;
  • Evaluate environmental changes related to physical weathering or any other processes operating during the sediment deposition.

This was all to help answer two related questions: 1) how were these crystals formed; and 2) what conditions were needed?

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