Weirdly I quite like the REF – I like the fact that at its heart, despite the bureaucracy, it is a celebration of research, of the efforts and creativity of a multinational community across all corners of the UK HE sector. I like the focus that it brings to my work, and the galvanising effect upon individuals and teams to come together and work in this shared endeavour. I’m less keen on the minutiae of the guidance, of the technical whys, wherefores and whats. Of the angst over a piece of guidance that suggests flexibility, but is too scarily broad to enable anyone but the most bold to step outside of the conventional ways of presenting research. I’m not too keen on the way that an administrative exercise can distract us from the thing itself i.e. creative, rigorous investigation that makes a difference in our communities and beyond.
So, whilst in the final stages of wrangling our submission, my interest and imagination were caught by an email about the Hidden REF. I was a bit circumspect at first – I like a bit of subversion, but don’t want to undermine the work of those involved in the REF – the RE team have helped us all over the line in most challenging circumstances. However, I was quickly relieved of my apprehension as it is clear to me that the Hidden REF is both a serious and playful accompaniment to the REF proper, providing an alternative lens through which we can explore the potential future for research assessment.
I was also struck by parallels with discussions around the Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers which I’ve been lucky enough to have as part of the national Concordat Strategy Group. The Group discussed at length the different audiences and beneficiaries of the Concordat, settling on a definition that focused on individuals whose primary responsibility is to conduct research but allowed for many other groups of individuals who actively engage in research within institutions including postgraduate researchers, staff on teaching and research or teaching-only contracts, clinicians, professional support staff and technicians.
There’s an echo here with current and related Ministerial and UKRI initiatives. In the former Amanda Solloway is searching for 101 people, doing 101 different jobs that make major contributions to research and innovation, but who are not researchers and innovators. In the latter Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser debunks of the Einsteinian myth of research conducted by lone geniuses: she notes that “This community of diverse, complementary talents drives research and innovation and every member of the community is important.” I’m particularly liking the fact that she also identifies the importance of tea making/drinking. Both of these references are helpfully reported together in the award winning BU Research Blog, of which I (and I’m sure many of you) am a big fan.
The Hidden REF has a category called ‘Hidden Role’ – in a more feverish REF moment it brought to mind an idea of a game that crosses “Sardines” with research assessment. For those who’ve never played it, Sardines is a party game in which only one person hides and the others must find them, hiding with them when they do so. The hiding places become progressively more cramped, like sardines in a tin. The last person to find the hiding group is the loser, and becomes the hider for the next round (thank you Wikipedia). The REF equivalent would involve trying to cram more and more information into a partially concealed field within the REF submission system…… or not.
Anyhow, the Hidden Role is an opportunity for the community to celebrate the contributions of the many and varied people who help us with the design, discovery, delivery and dissemination of research. These roles can include, but are not limited to, data stewards and managers, librarians, technicians, Research Software Engineers, Professional Services Personnel, RMAs (Research Managers and Administrators), PRISMS (Professional Research Investment and Strategy Managers) and Lived Experience Contributors.
So, if you know of someone who has made a significant contribution to your research, who you think should be recognised in the Hidden REF then please do make a submission on their behalf (do ask them first!). Thankfully the process of submission is not much more difficult than a childhood party game, you need to write 300 words (this may change slightly) about their contribution, and away you go. The Hidden REF website explains more.