AHRC Study Tour 2012 – ‘Emerging Themes’ Overview

This is the second part of a series on the AHRC 2012 Study Tour.

Adam Walker – Strategy & Development Manager provided a whistle stop tour of the AHRC ‘Emerging Themes’. Although these are still referred to officially as “emerging”, the point was made that by now many of these have “emerged”.

The Main Themes are:

  • Science in Culture: looking at the historical evaluation of science, creativity & discovery, imagery & museums, public debate & enagement
  • Digital Transformations: how can we transfrom arts & humanities
  • Care for the Future: how the past can inform future thinking; custodianship of cultural heritage
  • Translating Cultures: need for diverse cultures to understand & communicate verbal & non verbal artforms; cultural understanding in a globalised economy & society

The main aims of the 4 emerging themes are:

  • knowledge exchange
  • capacity building
  • informing public policy
  • partnership activities – large consortia grants
  • build on previous programmes

Each of the main themes has a series of more focused sub-themes. Details can be found on the AHRC website, under ‘Emerging Themes’.

Connected Communities: this is a cross-Council theme, led by AHRC. Annual summits are being held for existing award holders with the opportunity for follow-on funding. There will be a Development Workshop announced in March for an event in May/June looking at Communities, Culture, Environment & Sustainability.

Advisory groups have been held for the 4 main emerging themes. There are development workshops planned and it is anticipated that future calls will be for longer, larger grants with a greater focus on the sub themes.

Current open Highlight Notices:

  • The highlight notice for the fellowship scheme has been extended until December 2012 and the highlight notice in the networking scheme until the end of July 2012. Both schemes remain entirely open to proposals addressing any topic and proposals to the scheme do not need to address any of these themes.
  • Care for the Future: a research grants scheme highlight notice is open,  looking at humanities approaches to environmental change (value up to £1.5m for a large consortia of either a group from one university OR a consortia of HEIs)

Although no commitment was made, Adam indicated that there have been discussions around opening up highlight notices for other themes within the responsive-mode standard research grants call.

Finally, there will be a Development Workshop, associated call & activities considered on community resilience, & provisionally on Communities, Culture, Diversity & Cohesion announced in 2013. There will be Devlopment Workshops announced under all of the other Themes but these are still to be decided.

Adam’s slides are available at: http://www.slideshare.net/AHRC/arma-themes-presentation

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AHRC Study Tour 2012 – Mark Llewellyn on Future Strategic Directions

This is part 1 of a series on the AHRC 2012 Study Tour: First up was Professor Mark Llewellyn, AHRC’s new Director of Research with a wide-ranging talk covering most of what AHRC currently does as well as future directions for the funder.

And when we say “new”, we mean it! It turns out Mark had only been in the job 20 days when he delivered this presentation – he was formerly Professor of English Studies at Strathclyde. Phil Ward, Research Funding Manager at Kent, has already offered his own useful analysis of what Prof. Llewellyn’s appointment might say about the AHRC’s underlying goals. In any case, Prof. Llewellyn did a good job of summing up the state of play at the research council as well as giving some reasonable indications about what AHRC will be interested in over the next year or so. In what follows I’ve picked out some of the key points from the session. You can also take a look at the presentation slides, available on the AHRC website. And remember to leave a comment if you’d like to ask a question.

“Commissioned” Research

One of the points Mark made fairly early on was that AHRC’s remit is wide – over 50 disciplines are represented and supported by the funder. As with other research councils, this support is primarily channelled through their “responsive” mode: a no deadlines, open all year funding stream for anything within AHRC’s remit. After briefly covering the AHRC’s “emerging” themes (which will be the subject of tomorrow’s more detailed post), Mark briefly mentioned the possibility of a new “commissioned” research funding mode which would respond flexibly to priorities raised by the research community. Not a lot was said about this in the presentation – suggesting it is still at an early stage of development – but the presentation (slide 5) shows that it is clearly separate from the emerging themes as well as the cross-council priorities. This is speculation, but perhaps it is one way of the AHRC responding to criticisms last year over the perceived introduction of the “big society” into their research agenda (an issue on which both Mark and the audience were noticeably silent).

The issue of forming longer-term partnerships with the research community was clearly at the forefront as Mark began his presentation with the observation that “grants don’t just stop”. Of course the funding ends, but there are many more events and activities which outlast the duration of the grant. There was a clear indication that the AHRC intend to take an increasing interest in longer-term outcomes and outputs of the research they fund, not just through the RCUK Research Outcomes System, but also in the nature of the relationship between funder and researcher. This may well signal a subtle shift towards the “funder as sponsor” model adopted by the EPSRC.

“Embedded”

One of the words of the day for Mark and other AHRC presenters was “embedded”. The significance is this: although the AHRC has and will continue to have separate strands of activity devoted to, say, Knowledge Exchange and International research partnerships, the expectation is that these activities will be embedded and integrated across the AHRC’s research themes and schemes. Mark made the point that funding for Knowledge Exchange doesn’t just have to be chanelled through specialist KE themes. This shouldn’t be too surprising, especially since research councils have been hammering on about including costs for impact activities within grants for quite some time now. The picture is of  longer, larger research grants (see below) which also make time for international and industrial engagement, and of researchers who are prepared to be leaders both within and outside academia.

Demand/Expectation Management

Mark wants to work with research organisations and research offices to share best practice on this issue, both processes and user experiences. From “our” perspective, he suggested that demand management might be better framed as expectation management, although whose expectations wasn’t made clear (research managers’ or academics’?) – and who is doing the managing?

One specific point is worth highlighting here: many institutions understandably call on members of the AHRC Peer Review College to act as internal peer reviewers. Mark acknowledged that this is a good way of sharing peer review expertise but cautioned that institutions shouldn’t overburden PRC members. One suggestion was that PRC members could focus on reviewing applications by early career researchers only. Another was to ensure that membership of internal peer review groups included a mix of PRC members and more junior colleagues, giving the opportunity for those who have not had the benefit of working as a peer reviewer to gain an insight into this process.

On the issue of peer review, Mark also indicated that he wanted members of the PRC to feel more like a community. Peer review is therefore to be given its own section on the AHRC’s new-look website, and there is likely to be some investment in online training for the 1300+ member College.

“Longer and larger”

This was another of the key phrases of the day, along with the corollary – “fewer” – which was mentioned slightly less often. In common with all the other research councils, the AHRC are strategically positioning themselves to invest in a smaller number of longer, larger grants which deliver greater impact. None of this is new, of course, having been highlighted in the Delivery Plans published at the end of 2010. However, Mark was keen to point out that it did not necessarily mean calling for projects worth £4M. He insisted that it was also about engaging with researchers in development of research activity and suggested that AHRC would start running EPSRC-style research “sandpits” to do this.

Mark acknowledged that the calls announced to date for the four existing “emerging” themes (Digital Transformations, Translating Cultures, Care for the Future, Science in Culture) might have given the impression that longer and larger was not the priority – there have been a number of small scale research development calls as well as highlight notices on the £45K max Research Networking scheme. These were designed to scope the research area, and would be followed by a larger scale call, in much the same way as has happened in Connected Communities.

There will be more from the AHRC Study Tour tomorrow.

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AHRC Study Tour 2012 – Introduction

Last Friday Sam King and I took the long train down from Newcastle to Swindon to visit the Arts and Humanities Research Council for an ARMA-sponsored “Study Tour” (it took 5 and a half hours to get there – a substantial journey, but not quite the epic 7 and a half hours it took me last time I visited Research Councils HQ). AHRC have helpfully uploaded the agenda and all of the presentations on their website:

AHRC/ARMA Study Tour 2012

Study Tours are a useful opportunity for research support staff like us to meet with research council staff and hear about their latest strategic priorities, discuss any policy shifts, and find out about new or revamped funding opportunities. Despite having the smallest budget of all the UK research councils, the AHRC is the primary funder for many researchers in arts, humanities and related disciplines. One of the messages which came across clearly throughout the day was that their funding has a significant effect on the research community and the UK’s economic, social and cultural well-being (see, for example, their recently published impact report for 2011).

Over the course of this week, we’ll be writing about the main insights and messages from the day on this blog. We’ll also arrange an AHRC update event in the near future open to all Northumbria staff to elaborate on some of the key points and discuss potential opportunities for funding. If you’d like to ask any questions in the meantime, please either leave a comment on the blog or contact us.

Here’s the full list of posts:

  1. Mark Llewellyn on Future Strategic Directions
  2. ‘Emerging Themes’ Overview
  3. Peer Review and Fellowships
  4. Knowledge Exchange and International Opportunities
  5. Research Careers, Block Grant Partnerships and Final Questions
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Elsewhere…: Using Social Media In Research

The first post in what will become a semi-regular series rounding up the latest news and views from around the research blogosphere. This week we’re focusing on using social media in research.

Let’s kick things off with a post from Julie Northam at Bournemouth University Research Office about the benefits of academic blogging:

Academics who blog regularly report positive outcomes, such as networking and collaborating, using royalty free photos to illustrate on what they blog about, finding new audiences and opportunities, disseminating research more widely, and building reputation. Bloggers argue that far from diluting scholarly success (as has been suggested by some academics), online writing can be a serious tool for academic practice. Blogging should be seen as part of a programme of dissemination and collaboration, and is best used alongside traditional academic outlets (such as journals) as a means of amplifying the reach and potentially the significance and future direction of the research.

If you need more than anecdotal evidence on the benefits of blogging, try this post from last November at the LSE Impact blog which shows the massive increase in views for a database of 94 papers linked to from 6 different blogs:

These increases are massive compared to the typical abstract views and downloads these papers get- one blog post in Freakonomics is equivalent to 3 years of abstract views!

Staying with the LSE blog, last week they posted a piece by Don Taylor which provides an interesting counterbalance to this view:

We absolutely need the slow, peer review system as the foundation of thoughtful, careful scholarship. Twitter and other social media are important additions that can give scholarly content “reach” and “relevancy”. However, it’s a both/and, not an either/or proposition. Traditional peer review journals should remain the bedrock of the research evidence that can be brought to bear on health policy.

This reinforces Julie’s point that blogs and Twitter should be used as part of a dissemination and impact strategy for research – they’re not the whole picture.

And using Twitter as part of the research process is on Dr Jeremy Segrott’s mind too. Last week he posted this piece evaluating his experiences of using the microblogging service for the last three months:

Twitter has been immensely helpful in keeping me up to date with new reports that are published, interesting debates among academics and health professionals, and a way of developing links with fellow researchers.  A single tweet I sent last week also generated two requests to do interviews with the BBC on topics relating to parenting and alcohol.

Impressive! But if you’re new to all of this, how do you get started in using Twitter in research? You could do worse than check out this guide put together by the good folks at the LSE Research Impact blog. It starts from the basics and covers all of the terminology (follow, retweet, mentions, hashtags), a range of tweeting styles, and the difference between using Twitter in research or for teaching.

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Funding Calendar Now Available

The blog now sports a lovely colour-coded calendar of forthcoming funding opportunities, courtesy of Research Professional and Google Calendar. It looks like this:

The colour key to the different types of events is as follows:

  • FP7 Funding
  • Non-FP EU Funding
  • RCUK Funding
  • Postgraduate Funding
  • Travel Funding

You can click on the individual funding opportunities to find out more information and you’ll need to click through to Research Professional to get the full details (you’ll have access to a free account if you’re a member of staff at Northumbria University). You can also choose to display the calendar in three different ways, with week, month and agenda views available.

At the moment this calendar takes an “everything and the kitchen sink” approach, with thousands of funding opportunities listed. However, if you think your School or Research Group would find it useful, please contact us and we’d be happy to produce a calendar which is more tailored to your own research area. These can be useful for planning research bids up to a year ahead.

A note on how this was done for those interested:  I created several Google calendars – one for each type of funding deadline I wanted to display. I made all of them publicly available on the web to ensure I could embed them in the blog. I then ran several searches on ResearchProfessional, and imported the resulting .ics calendar files into Google calendar. So, for example, I ran a search on EU Funding opportunities and imported the .ics file into the Google Calendar I’d created and titled “EU Funding”.

Once this is done you can click on calendar options and then calendar details within Google Calendar and customise how your calendar will appear when embedded into web pages. You can use this function to display several separate calendar files within a single calendar – this is how you get the colour-coding you can see on the calendar above. This also gives you an embedding code which you can use to put the calendar on your website.

However, because this is currently a WordPress.com hosted blog I couldn’t simply paste the resulting code into the page I wanted to use. WordPress.com hosted blogs block all but a small subset of approved html code for security reasons.  To get around this, I needed to first paste the html code generated by Google Calendar into a Text Widget in the sidebar, as per the official WordPress.com instructions on embedding calendars in blogs. WordPress then automatically converts this into WordPress-friendly shortcode which looks a bit like this, in [square brackets]:

googleapps domain="www" dir="calendar/embed query="title=...

I copied this, then pasted it into the page I wanted and tweaked it to display the calendar at width=800, height=600 (the shortcode defaults to 200×200 pixels, which isn’t ideal for displaying a calendar with lots of deadlines). Et voila!

UPDATE 4th Feb 2012: Since we’ve recently moved to a hosted WordPress installation, much of the above explanation is no longer relevant. However, I’ll leave it up since others may be interested in embedding a Google calendar on a wordpress.com site.

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