By Anita Gowers
On the national level The Australian Council for University Art and Design Schools (ACUADS) is uniquely placed to play a role in improving outcomes for Field of research codes 19 and 12 (Studies in Creative Arts and Writing and Built Environment and Design respectively) in the next Engagement and Impact Assessment round in 2024 (EI 2024).
There are two significant factors that combine to undermine creative outputs being classified as new research internally in many Australian universities. Firstly, creative academics use a complex range of research methodologies to produce new research. This diversity and complexity of new research production methodologies is often misunderstood even between creative academics from the same discipline. Secondly, short term contracts offered to humanities research management staff adds to staff turn-over, often resulting in creative academics having to explain, again, to well-meaning research staff why their creative outputs are new research. These two issues, complexity of creative research methodologies and research staff turn-over, can result in creative academics feeling undervalued and sometimes under siege.
So what can ACUADS do? ACUADS cannot influence research staff contracts, that is an issue for School and Colleges within their respective institutions to address. It can, however, develop and publish sector wide non-traditional research output templates applicable for all creative methodologies. The Sydney University NTRO Guidelines is a great place to start as they include specific criteria and output weights for each type of NTRO (The University of Sydney, 2014). This is important as research quality, measured every three years through the Excellence in Research Australia process, is a driver for block funding to higher education institutions. Establishing and circulating agreed processes will provide clarity for both creative academics and research staff.
The Engagement and Impact Assessment 2018 (EI 2018) has amplified the need for clear nationally accepted NTRO guidelines. In addition to NTRO guidelines, it is imperative that creative academics understand the meanings of terms used by the Australian Research Council (2014). A selection of key terms from the ARC guidelines is presented at the end of this article.
Engagement involves the interactions that take place between researchers and research end-users. Logically then, engagement is something creative academics and schools can build into research plans. Engagement can be developed by simple processes such as including end-users in conducting the research, seeking co-funding for research projects and including end-users in producing creative outputs. In contrast, impact is measuring the difference the research made beyond academia. Demonstrating the contribution of impact is where the creative case studies are challenged.
ACUADS could also play a role by developing impact templates, from the wide range of resources readily available, specific to each discipline and creative methodology (ISRIA, 2014). This would help creative academics understand what evidence to collect to support their impact and engagement narratives.
EI 2018 required evidence of institutional mechanisms and how these led to the impact of each specific case study. Some narrative accounts of institutional activity around impact didn’t necessarily connect well with the best examples of impact as there were examples of high impact and engagement that happened independently of institutional structures. There were also case studies with convoluted, almost pretzel like explanations of how a specific impact was really connected to an action taken by the University. To avoid this in the next round Art and Design Schools need to start thinking strategically about what mechanisms they are investing in now, to support their impact and engagement case studies for 2024.
Time is one of the central ingredients of research excellence. Research excellence doesn’t happen overnight, it happens with many little incremental steps over longer time frames. If ACUADS develops NTRO and EI templates at least the incremental steps will be clearer.
Research is the creation of new knowledge and/or the use of existing knowledge in a new and creative way to generate new concepts, methodologies, inventions and understandings. This could include the synthesis and analysis of previous research to the extent that it is new and creative.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander research
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander research means that the research (as defined above) significantly:
relates to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, nations, communities, language, place, culture or knowledges and/or
is undertaken with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, nations, or communities.
Research engagement is the interaction between researchers and research end-users outside of academia, for the mutually beneficial transfer of knowledge, technologies, methods or resources.
Research impact is the contribution that research makes to the economy, society, environment or culture, beyond the contribution to academic research.
A research end-user is an individual, community or organisation external to academia that will directly use or directly benefit from the output, outcome or result of the research. Examples of research end-users include governments, businesses, non-governmental organisations, communities and community organisations.
OECD. (2002). Frascati Manual 2002: Proposed Standard Practice for Surveys on Research and Experimental Development: OECD Publishing.
The International School on Research Impact and Assessment (2014). Research Impact and Assessment Plan – Guidelines. Available at: https://www.theinternationalschoolonria.com/uploads/resources/melbourne_school_2016/16_16_RIA_Plan_Guidelines.pdf (Accessed: 25 October 2019)
The Australian Research Council. (2009). Excellence in Research Australia 2010 Submission Guidelines. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia.
The Australian Research Council. (2014). Excellence in Research for Australia: ERA 2015 submission guidelines. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia.
The University of Sydney Research Portfolio. (2014). University Guidelines for Non-Traditional Research Outputs (NTROs). Sydney: The University of Sydney
Anita Gowers holds a B.A (Hons) and Research Masters from the University of Queensland. She has worked in the public, private and not-for-profit sectors across many disciplines. Anita has a demonstrated track record in interdisciplinary research, team building and business development and has held many board positions in the not-for-profit sectors. Anita was responsible for driving the direction of research at the Creative Exchange Institute at the University of Tasmania. She is currently a Ph.D. candidate at the Australian National University.