ARMA creating new perspectives

ARMA creating new perspectives

A conference designed to promote excellence in research management and administration may not sound like everyone’s cup of tea, but to a Research Manager like myself it’s a fantastic opportunity to meet colleagues from across the UK and beyond. With almost 700 delegates, #ARMAconf2017  (Association for Research Managers and Administrators) demonstrated the size, enthusiasm and continued professionalisation of our career.
 
This year three members of the BI team that work on grants attended the conference – me, Daniel Brown (External Funding Officer) and Debbie Blake (Management Accountant) – attending sessions that covered a range of topics including scientific review/benchmarking, building a ‘vibrant research community’, measuring impact, grants audit and RCUK funding assurance. All three of us attended talks that both complemented our roles but also took us outside our comfort zones to understand things from another perspective.
 
With 10 parallel sessions running at any time it’s hard to know how many people will be in each talk. My session was in the graveyard shift, last session of the last day, but I managed to get a reasonable number of attendees. I talked about how we established the BI Grants Office from scratch, there being no grant support function prior to 2013. The main points from my talk were i) do your homework ii) communication is vital iii) you can’t please everyone iv) know and use your allies v) bribery works. I then split the audience into groups to talk about communications and processes at their places of work. Often ARMA conference can feel a little like group therapy; Chatham House rules apply and people tend unburden themselves of all the frustrations they’ve been saving up since the previous June. However, with a little encouragement I got people to identify their best practise and encourage them to think how they can effect positive change.
 
Here are some of my highlights:
 
In the plenary session, Dr Lesley Thompson VP Global Academic and Government Relations, Elsevier) argued that geography should contribute to strategic collaboration decisions at a local, national and global level. More interestingly for me though, she showed some data about the mobility of researchers into and out of the UK, suggesting that “less-migratory” workers had fewer collaborators, were less productive and produced research of a lower impact. The proportion of women in this group was much higher than that in the “transitory” group who tended to be more collaborative, have greater seniority and produced more outputs of a higher impact. This highlights the importance of initiatives such as BI’s equality4success to support women in their careers and remove barriers to progression where possible.
 
As part of a session on Executive Leadership Initiatives, Dr Ian Carter from the University of Sussex discussed how he was developing a qualitative approach to model research performance, moving away from the most commonly used indicators of success such as income or citations. There was then a discussion about the value of being or having a strong leader, and the recognition that you don’t need to be in a position of authority to lead, indeed relatively junior people with good ideas can be thought leaders. The conversation then moved onto people in research management are often renowned for their expertise outside their HEI, with their peers in ARMA and elsewhere rightly acknowledging them as experts in their field. However, this is not always recognised in their place of work. We discussed how sometimes it can be difficult getting your message across when you know you’re right but less well informed individuals are arguing with you. The general agreement was to admit that “no prophet is accepted in his own country” and never ever use the phrase “do you know who I am?”.
 
Peter Hedges from Cambridge University talked about their programme of strategic research reviews, which are used to inform research planning and strategy. They bring in teams of international experts to review each department, acting as critical friends to provide constructive feedback on how the departments and CU can deliver world-class research.
 
The 2017 ARMA “Research Management Team of the Year” from Cranfield University spoke about how they have tried to build a vibrant research community, centred around four guiding principles: programmes and support, communication, customer service and leadership. We then broke into groups to share best practise from our institutes.
 
The conference provided a fantastic opportunity to make new connections and I have since exchanged emails with contacts to follow up on ideas we can bring into practise at BI to make positive impacts for our researchers.