Simon Baker: 00:08
Hello, this is Team Science, a podcast brought to you by Nature Careers in partnership with Nature Index. I’m Simon Baker, chief editor at Nature Index, which tracks research articles in leading science journals.
In this series, we explore behind the scenes of academia, and speak to the people who make it all possible, but do not necessarily get the credit.
This series is sponsored by Western Sydney University. And at the end of this episode, we’ll hear about how it is helping to champion team science.
In episode two, we hear about the Hidden REF, a campaign to recognize the hidden heroes of science.
Simon Hettrick: 00:52
I’m Simon Hettrick, the deputy director of the Software Sustainability Institute, and I’m based at the University of Southampton. And I’m the chair of the Hidden REF, which is a campaign we’ve been running to raise recognition of non-traditional research outputs.
So the REF, which is the Research Excellence Framework, is the way that the UK Government assesses the research output from universities across the UK. It’s basically a process of collecting together the research outputs that have been conducted and generated at universities, and then assessing them.
And on the back of that assessment, a large amount of money is dispersed across UK universities. I think it’s about £2 billion.
So the Hidden REF was set up to look at non-traditional research outputs.
What we’d seen with the REF was that there was a focus on publications as being basically the only output from research.
But from our experience of research, we knew there was a broad range of different things being produced and powering research.
Software is the thing that I’m really interested in. But also, there was data and lots of different elements. So we set up the Hidden REF to look at any non-traditional research outputs.
You could submit absolutely anything for assessment, unless it was a publication. That was the only thing that was not allowed.
The idea when we set up the reference to look for these non traditional outputs, but we didn’t actually understand what all those non-traditional outputs were. We're victims of knowing only our own area of research.
So we started off with the non-publication outputs from the actual REF, and you’ll see things there like exhibitions, and performances and devices.
And we asked the community over a period of about six months what they would like to see, what they thought wasn’t being recognized by this traditional research assessment programme.
And then we got brilliant examples, things like training materials, which I think was one that really impacted with me, because we generate a lot of training. These are massively useful resources, but they largely go unrecognized.
Then there was also things like Citizen Science, which is hugely important, and community-building. Then, over time, what we saw was people kept suggesting different roles.
So technicians came up, and research software engineers, which is very close to my heart. And over time, we realized there were so many of these different types of roles that what we should do is we should combine them, and it became the biggest category in the Hidden REF and we called it the hidden role. And it’s the people who are absolutely vital to research, unrecognized by academia.
Gemma Derrick: 03:51
My name is Gemma Derrick. I'm an associate professor of research policy and culture at the School of Education at the University of Bristol.
I was also very fortunate enough to be on the Hidden REF advisory committee, during the years 2020 to 2022.
To the hidden role category, we received almost 60 submissions. And these were from research technicians, research managers, research administrators, participants in research, which was a really interesting perspective and interpretation of the role.
We had a large panel of international experts in research culture and research productivity. And it was during the pandemic, so we met online and we discussed the submissions. And many of the submissions were, there were some from people that we envisage when we thought when we develop the roll they hadn’t rolled in the beginning but there are others that really made us think “Wow, you know, they, we don’t acknowledge these types of people and yet we know they’re very important.”
And there were several that the submission moved people to tears because is not only was it so clear through the submission the contribution that people made, but also the injustice of not being able to acknowledge them formally.
And this is why the Hidden REF was really important, I think, because it really drew a light on these roles that make a search important and functionable on a day-to-day basis.
Highly commended was Kevin Atkins at the University of Plymouth.
Kevin Atkins: 05:27
Yeah, my name is Kevin Atkins, I’m a site engineer at the Marine Biological Association, in Plymouth in the southwest of England.
I’ve been here 32 years this November. The research area was founded in 1884. It’s research into our oceans and what’s living in the oceans, and the life that’s in them, and what sort of effects the warming of the seas is having on things or growth, etc.
Not just on fish, animals, cold fish, but seaweed as well, top shells. So everybody, a lot of people do different research and different things all over, all over the country. And from here to the top of Scotland, different seas, different temperatures? Yeah, so that’s, that’s mainly.
Gemma Derrick: 06:21
And I remember when I was doing my Masters, in a lab, in a neuroscience lab, we had a Kevin Atkins, too. He was the person who you went to for anything. He would develop, you know, a way for you to set up your rig, or to hold a particular drug vial at a particular angle into, you know.
There was nothing, there was nothing too technical or difficult or minor or major for this, for this person, his name was Gary, to fix for you. And he did it in a variety of different ways. He should have been an engineer, he was so good at things like that.
Kevin Atkins: 06:58
I’m a plumber, a plumber by trade does not do all the plumbing here. I do all the pumping and upgrades, upkeep of all the pumps, site experiments for our students and scientists.
What they do, they come with an idea of something and then we talk about it. And I set it up. I set something up the other day for one of the students. It involved 12 tanks on three different levels, but every other one had to be different temperatures.
So I actually used 200 metres of hose. It sent me round the bend. But it was just a small room about 10 by 8 in height, all these tanks, all this hose running around everywhere.
So I could have. Because he couldn’t have I said “Why couldn’t you just have a rack of five?” at the same temperature. But because of the way it was written up in a paper every other one had to be different temperatures so they could get there. Because the light and darkness. So then we talk about it. And we invent it, if that makes sense.
Simon Hettrick: 08:08
And yet he was never an author on any of our papers. But he was vital part. Kevin is the epitome of that role. And I remember how important Gary was for me, not just for every researcher in that lab, but for me as a Master’s student.
And I’m sure Kevin is the same. And so he quite rightly received a highly commended and I remember that the committee was very, very taken with Kevin’s role as well. And after after we announced it, there was a wonderful photo of Kevin in his workshop.
And you can see simply by the very very nuanced smile that Kevin has, as well as the tools in the background, how useful and important and valuable this role is for the function of science within that, within that department.
Kevin Atkins: 09:02
Yeah, that’s my main job really. But I do everything here, even down to changing lightbulbs now. That’s how things are here. I don’t mind. It’s a nice place to work. My children say I should be really proud of myself. I just, like, go red and get embarrassed.
I say I’m a legend in my own workshop. Some of them, they only talk when they want something. You know, it is a bit them and us sometimes. Some of them are OK. The ones that put me in for this are OK. They appreciate what I do, you know. The ones I work with closely.
But some of them they just, they don’t talk to you till they actually want something. Then it’s all sweetness and light then.
That’s the way it is, I suppose. I don’t mnd. I just get on with my own thing. I’ve got my workshop down in the basement and then work from there, which is great. I just do whatever comes along until emergencies come along, etc. I could retire this year but I’m not going to. I’m 66 in July.
Gemma Derrick: 10:17
So another highly commended prizewinner was the Growing up on the Streets project, which was a project hosted by the University of Dundee.
And what was very interesting about this project, and what has made us really think about the nature of the hidden role category is that unlike being a research manager or research administrator of a lab manager here, we were talking about a group of street children, 18 of them, from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, as well as in Harare, who for three years worked alongside the research team from the University of Dundee as researchers themselves, learning how to gather data, gathering data and sharing it with a research team in the University of Dundee.
Lorraine Van Blerk: 11:00
So I’m Lorraine Van Blerk. I’m a professor of human geography at the University of Dundee. I’m also the associate dean for research in the school of humanities, social sciences and law.
Growing up on the Streets is an international research project that worked with approximately 200 young people aged 14 to 20, in three African cities. That was Accra in Ghana, Bukavu in the DRC, and Harare in Zimbabwe.
It was a longitudinal research project, and it was developed to examine and better understand the lives and conditions affecting children and youth living on the streets, and in informal settlements.
Well, the approach of the research for Growing up on the Streets was participatory and co-produced research.
So we worked with young people who were both informants, but also researchers in the project. So six young people in each cities were trained in basic ethnographic methods and research skills.
And then they were recruited onto the project as researchers. And so they worked part-time for a period of three years as young researchers on the streets working with their peers. So they would, they would carry on their normal daily lives, they were all living on the streets. And they would work with a group of approximately 10 other peers in their cities, and engage with them on a daily basis.
And then every week they would recount their ethnographic reports. So not quite an interview, but a kind of ethnographic dialogue and collaboration with one of our NGO partners in each of the cities.
And that was partly because their ethnography had to be done verbally. It was not something that they could write down. Many of them did not go to school for very long, and so didn’t quite have literacy skills to be able to do that.
But they did that work for three years, really engaged in their own communities and working with their peers, and understanding their lived experiences on the street.
Gemma Derrick: 13:11
And this was extremely important because we never really think about our research participants, and the external people who do the data collection for us, especially when they’re done in different countries, as well as if they’re children.
Andthe role that they they play in ensuring our research, we can meet our research objectives. So all credit to the University of Dundee for acknowledging them and it really made the panel think about the inclusion criteria for that category.
Lorraine Van Blerk: 13:40
As researchers, we spend a lot of time working to ref criteria and guidelines and, and publishing and doing research and seeking funding and all of those things.
But these young people really didn’t know what research was. They had no idea how research could influence and make change in their own communities, but also globally.
And this research, their research and their voices fed, into the UN General Comment on children in street situations.
And this was the first general comment where young people's voices were actually part of the process.
And our research led that process, the consultation process, and Growing up on the Streets provided the Africa consultations to that general comment.
And so the amount of work that these young people have put in as researchers into that project doesn't get recognized beyond the research and what we do in order to share their stories.
And so to put them up for award, for them to receive the highly commended award, was really great.
It was really it really demonstrated that other people, it demonstrated to them that other people in academic institutions in other parts of the world, appreciated what they had done, and recognized their skills and talents.
And what we did with the award, it’s just, it’s a certificate. And we made copies of all this, we’ve made copies of the certificate.
And we were able to go to Ghana in April and take them personally to all the young people. So they, they’ve all been informed, and they were we presented, we had an award ceremony, and presented them with their award, just to show, you know, and really demonstrate.
And they were so thrilled. It didn’t come with any anything, really that they need. But just the recognition that they had received on the global stage was, was fantastic. And to be able to show that other people had really recognized what they had done.
Gemma Derrick: 15:57
See them, acknowledge them, say their names, say their roles. Tell them at the very least tell them what they mean to you, and what their work means to your research.
Put them in acknowledged statements if you want it in an output of research. And also submit them to exercises like the Hidden REF if one goes on.
But I think the first step towards getting the recognition they deserve, is literally telling them. And there are so many roles we take for granted in research.
There are a lot of egos, as I said before, and we don’t like to think that we are in any way beholden to anyone else for our success.
But that’s not the case. There are a lot of different people whose actions have contributed to the production of a paper or to a book that you know, you might acknowledge in the acknowledged sections, but you otherwise don’t reflect on either.
So I think that taking a step back, thinking about who helped you get where you are, and telling them is the first step towards getting them greater acknowledgement.
And I think the Hidden REF is very important too. We have a number of different categories, as I’ve described before.
And for, for better, or for worse, one of the main reasons why they aren’t incorporated into formal evaluation processes is because previously, we’ve been told, it’s never been done before, so we wouldn’t know what to do.
And that’s, that’s a really, really common reason why they haven't been included more formally. This is why the Hidden REF was so important. We wanted to say, Well, okay, it hasn't been done before. So we’re going to do it.
And we’re going to start this conversation, and we’re going to see how it can be done. Not if it can be done, but how it can be done. Create the guidelines, the criterion, the evaluation processes around acknowledging and celebrating these these contributions, and hopefully, in the long term, be able to contribute to the development of criterion that acknowledges these roles and outputs more formally, in more formal audit frameworks as well. It’s a first step.
Simon Hettrick: 18:08
So the problem then is how do you recognize these other rules? And is there is always the immediate question I’m asked when I’ve run campaigns in the past, to look at specific hidden rules.
And the one that really close to my heart is research software engineers. So they went from being an unknown role in 2012, to this massive global community now.
And what I saw with that campaign was really the thing that we needed, it wasn’t a set of metrics or some assessment program or, or anything along those lines.
What we need to do is just change the academic culture so that role was recognized and the importance of it was was was valued by funders, by universities, by by government.
And when that just that conceptual change of thinking, “Well, this is an important role we need to support it happened.”
Then we saw this blossoming of the community and this huge growth. So I think it’s very difficult to say, to answer the question, how do you recognize a librarian say, you can’t just hand over a bunch of metrics and say, well, “It’s the number of books they processed” or something like that.
It's more about changing culture so that people understand the value of that role. And they recognize the contribution that they’re making towards progressing research.
Gemma Derrick: 19:27
Yeah, I have noticed that them and us culture quite and I think it’s felt quite acutely, simply because the structures that are used to celebrate and acknowledge the contributions that go into research culture don’t exist, and this is where the Hidden REF tried to add that perspective.
I know this was an ARMA survey, but there are other aspects who other people within our research culture that ARMA don’t necessarily include, but are also extremely important. And here we’re talking about research technicians, or we’re talking about the advocates for research, not just managers and administrators of research.
Librarians, for example, are extremely important. Our research managers, our administrators, all of these people, are key components of what makes a research culture possible.
And the Hidden REF hidden role category aims to acknowledge them and say, hey, you know, we see you and we know you’re important. And we want to acknowledge you and say thank you.
Because these people contribute to our research, but they’re not authors on our research, because they, they, they don’t necessarily adhere to the credit criteria and about what considers authorship.
But without them, our research wouldn’t happen. So yes, there is an us and them culture within research.
And that’s only exacerbated by the current structures associated with acknowledging value in research. And also by acknowledging who is classified as a contributor or research, it doesn’t doesn’t include these hidden roles.
Simon Hettrick 21:22
So the future for the Hidden REF, the immediate future is that we’re running what we’re going to call the festival of Hidden REF, and that will be taking place later this year. It was originally meant to take place in June, and we had everything set up and it was going very well.
And the best element of that is we just found the perfect venue in in Bristol, and it had the the Rosalind Franklin Room was the main plenary room we were going to be using, and I thought that was a sort of magical moment.
Because, obviously, Rosalind Franklin being one of the crystallographers, who was largely overlooked for her role in the discovery of DNA, what a better venue could you have for the Hidden REF.
Unfortunately, there was a fire, and everything's been postponed. So we are currently looking for another venue, possibly going to the festival take place around by the end of August.
And the idea will be to get two groups of people together, one of which will be the people who are in these hidden roles.
And I would like to see them grouping together, starting to work out hubs support each other, trying to work out how to run campaigns, like we’ve done to gain recognition for them.
And the other group will be the policymakers. So the kind of people who will be setting up the policies for understanding how we get this recognition embedded into universities, funders, and government.
Simon Baker: 22:49
Thanks for listening to this episode of the Team Science Podcast. I’m Simon Baker, chief editor at nature index, the producer was Dom Byrne. Next up, we’ll hear how Western Sydney University the sponsor of this series is helping to champion team science.
Caris Bizzaca 23:14:
I am Caris Bizzaca and welcome to this podcast series from Western Sydney University. Over this six episode series, I'll be introducing you to some incredible research taking place. From a million dollar fungi project that's helping combat climate change, to surveys into maternity care treatment, to creating electric vehicles for women in rural African communities and more. These projects are just a handful of those that entered the 2022 and 2023 Research Impact Competition run by Western Sydney University in Australia. There's also something else they have in common, they each speak to a sustainable development goal or SDG. A list of 17 goals created by the United Nations which tackle global issues including poverty, hunger, climate change, gender inequality and access to education. So how do we identify problems and then the path forward? Well, through research. And this research is happening at universities across the globe who are graded in the annual Times Higher Education Impact Rankings on their commitment to the SDGs.
This is significant because out of 1,700 universities in the world, Western Sydney University ranked number one overall for the past two years. And if we drill down into the SDGs it excelled in, it came first for the goals, gender equality, partnership for the goals and responsible consumption and production. For more information about sustainable development goals, you can visit sdgs.un.org and keep listening as the researchers across this series will talk to how their projects contribute to positive change. Before we dive in, I also want to take a moment to acknowledge the custodians of the lands where Western Sydney University campuses are located and pay respect to the peoples of the Dhurug, Tharawal, Eora and Wiradjuri Nations. I pay my respect to elders past and present. Always was, always will be. Now let's hear from some of the researchers from Western Sydney University's Research Impact Competition.
Dr. Tendai Chikweche 25:20:
For a woman in rural Africa, a lack of transportation means a missed opportunity to go to the local clinic, to get a nurse to visit after birth, to be able to take their kids to school. A missed opportunity for live load because they might not be able to transport their rural agricultural produce.
Caris Bizzaca 25:43:
That's Dr. Tendai Chikweche from the School of Business, who was one of the runners up in the 2022 Research Impact Competition. His project was to co-design a solar-powered shared electric vehicle for women in rural communities in Zimbabwe. In these areas, transportation is critical for people's livelihoods, but it is both scarce and expensive. Dr. Chikweche worked with a startup called Mobility for Africa on the project and he and his team began by consulting with 564 women in the target communities.
Dr. Tendai Chikweche 26:17:
So we picked a site in Wedza, Zimbabwe, which is in the southern part of Africa, where we worked just to get to understand their daily challenges in terms of what lack of transportation meant to them. But more importantly, the idea was to get a lived experience of those challenges. And then from that we had focus groups, individual interviews, spending some time with these women.
Caris Bizzaca 26:41:
In the product development stage, the research team were able to present a prototype of a three-wheeler electric vehicle used by women in rural China and asked the women in Zimbabwe what their specific needs were.
Dr. Tendai Chikweche 26:53:
Women being seen driving or riding a tricycle, this is something that you would not typically see in rural Africa. So there were issues around making sure that it met the social norms of their communities, it gave them enough space not to straddle their legs to be able to climb onto the tricycle.
Caris Bizzaca 27:14:
The result of that consultation period was the co-creation of the Hamba.
Dr. Tendai Chikweche 27:19:
Hamba in Swahili, which is one of the main languages in Africa, means to move.
Caris Bizzaca 27:23:
Powered by a shared community charging portal, the Hamba is a reliable and affordable form of transport for women in rural Zimbabwe. Purpose designed by and for these women, it offers basic transportation services for things like taking kids to school and taking people to clinics.
Dr. Tendai Chikweche 27:40:
Pretty much a rural Uber, if you actually want to put it that way.
Caris Bizzaca 27:54:
The Hamba also helps them earn money by being able to travel to sell agricultural produce or to buy and sell secondhand clothes. There was another important element though.
Dr. Tendai Chikweche 28:12:
In some ways is a game changer was their encouragement for us to engage government agencies such as the Ministry of Health, the police and agricultural services, in order to dedicate tricycles for those key service providers.
Caris Bizzaca 28:31:
Because of this, the local government was supported with eight vehicles and health workers reported doubling their postnatal midwife visits in the area. Also, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Hamba was used to improve the number of vaccination visits to schools and for nurses and the police to create awareness.
Dr. Tendai Chikweche 28:35:
For me, that service is a key aspect of that innovation and this impact.
Caris Bizzaca 28:38:
It hasn't been without its challenges though.
Dr. Tendai Chikweche 29:10:
You would appreciate that the society in rural Africa tends to be very hierarchical and reaching out to women and giving them confidence to say they could actually take control of their destiny was a fairly challenging conversation. But from a research point of view, I would say access, confidence, trust, those were typical ethnographic research challenges that we faced. And it took almost a good two years to really be able to get embedded into the community, to become accepted.
Caris Bizzaca 29:18:
When it comes to those SDGs, Dr. Chikweche's research with the Hamba covers not just one but eight SDGs.
Dr. Tendai Chikweche 30:16:
SDG number one around poverty. And SDG number 10, reduction of inequalities by virtue of empowering women to generate income. SDG number two for zero hunger in the sense that they now spend more time on their agricultural plots. And gender equality, SDG number five. We've empowered more than 41 women groups to effectively run this project and become the main breadwinners. SDG number eight, decent work and economic growth because in order for these Hambas to operate, we actually train local people are then employed by Mobility for Africa to actually maintain the Hambas. And because of renewable energy, SDG 13 on climate action and SDG 7 on affordable and clean energy come to play. And then the last one is the SDG on partnerships, SDG 17. Working with government agencies and a spectrum of other stakeholders has been a key aspect of that.
Caris Bizzaca 07:07:
Those non-government partnerships include Solar Shack and Toyota Mobility Foundation, who have been the main drivers around the design of the renewable energy battery that powers the Hamba. As for next steps, Dr. Chikweche hopes to see Hambas across the continent.
Dr. Tendai Chikweche 30:32:
With the introduction of a private sector investor that is made that dream real in the sense that right now we are at a stage where we're scaling up just in Zimbabwe, but also looking at going to other African countries. It would be wonderful to say, I don't know, in 2030, 2035, we can begin to talk of a continental landscape where we see rural African women empowered to use transportation to change their livelihoods. And also just to look for other opportunities beyond what we have framed in this initial stage in Zimbabwe because not every country in Africa is homogeneous in terms of the needs. So what other opportunities, what other partners can come into play? Those would be goals going forward.
Caris Bizzaca 31:25:
That was Dr. Tendai Chikweche, one of the runners up of the 2022 Research Impact Competition at Western Sydney University. Join us for the next episode to find out more about the research being undertaken in Australia and its real world impact, both now and into the future.