The rapid advancements in technology and data analytics have revolutionized the research and science landscape (Nature 2023), enabling researchers to explore new frontiers, make groundbreaking discoveries as well as develop completely new ways of addressing grand societal challenges.
Emerging technologies have the potential to streamline research processes, enhance data integrity, and facilitate interdisciplinary collaborations. But they also have the potential to affect the management and administration of research (RMA). We have witnessed, for example, academic articles and speeches in conferences being developed by using the latest innovations and technology, such as ChatGPT without any review or revision (Bailey 2023).
We often talk about responsible RDI but what is responsibility in the context of RMA?
Benchmarking research services
When benchmarking RMA activities and profession across the globe at the INORMS-congress in 2023, one very important insight was that generally in less-developed settings, as in Africa, all research-related activities are to be conducted by the researchers and scientists themselves. Any form of research support is in many cases non-existent but conducted on a voluntary or non-paid basis in many institutions.
The other extreme was presented by some of the most well-established universities and business schools, such as New York University, University of Illinois, King’s College London, Copenhagen Business School but also other Western higher education institutions (HEIs). In these organizations dozens and dozens of experts work as RMA professionals in RDI support roles, with multiple teams both at the university and at the school levels. These organizations might have both centralized as well as decentralized (school level) teams specializing in, for example, pre-award support, post-award support and project finance, open science, data management, and publishing among others.
The extent of RMA professionals in the HEIs naturally has its pros and cons. The lack of these professional roles can be an asset in staying at the forefront of scientific as well as technological advancements in the own field of science as researchers simultaneously take these developments also in managerial and administrative activities.
However, lacking dedicated research support is a significant challenge from multiple perspectives. It is an issue from the perspective of organizational responsibility, as it brings an additional burden for the researchers and is often very time-consuming. This easily results in a viscous cycle. Researchers secure less research funding and subsequently they have less time for research. This in turn hinders their opportunities for making an impact with RDI, which hinders opportunities for securing research funding.
Responsibility and diversity
The benchmarking findings highlight the needs a larger organizational size brings for larger research support and more professionals in RMA roles. It highlights both the critical role RMAs have in facilitating and securing the work of the researchers, but it also highlights the nature of the profession in terms of diverse expertise that RMA professionals need to have. And with the recent developments, such as generative AI, the landscape is getting only more complex to navigate.
Promoting inclusivity, equity and diversity, not just in research teams, but also regarding other stakeholders and reference groups, is critical for responsible RMA. Recognizing the fact that diverse perspectives, backgrounds and experiences lead to more comprehensive and impactful outcomes, is key in pursuing excellent RDI as well as RMA.
We have witnessed successful initiatives aiming to increase representation of underrepresented groups in RMA, such as women, minorities, and individuals from developing countries (Horn et al 2023). By embracing diversity, research institutions can better facilitate and support innovative RDI, foster creativity, and address societal challenges from multiple angles.
As a side effect of seizing diversity, the research institutions may mature into better places to work, and reach new levels of internationalization eventually attracting more funding for RDI.
Bailey, A. 2023. Towards a Utopia in Research and Innovation Management. Opening Plenary Session at INORMS Congress, 31.5.2023
Horn, L., Alba, S., Gopalakrishna, G., Kleinert, S., Kombe, F., Lavery, J.V. & Visagie, R.G. 2023. The Cape Town Statement on Fairness, Equity and Diversity in Research. Nature (London), vol. 615, no. 7954, pp. 790-793.
Editing: Marianne Wegmüller