SHAPE-ID’s second webinar on 25th June 2020 addressed the challenges of involving the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences (AHSS) more substantively in funding programme design and evaluation to increase AHSS participation in inter- and transdisciplinary research. Panellists Dr Jennifer Edmond (Trinity College Dublin and DARIAH), Dr Jack Spaapen (SHAPE-ID and the Royal Netherlands Academy for Arts and Sciences) and Mary Doyle (Trinity Long room Hub Public Policy Fellow and former Irish Government policy maker), discussed the gap between research and policy and how policy makers, researchers and Universities can make progress on this matter.
The recently published SHAPE-ID Policy Brief recommended that to increase the participation of the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences (AHSS) in interdisciplinary research (IDR) and transdisciplinary research (TDR), policy makers and funders must work to involve AHSS researchers more substantially in programme design and evaluation. However, similar recommendations have been made many times already with limited impact. What are the challenges of implementing this recommendation and how can policy makers, researchers and Universities make progress on this front? Is this challenge specific to improving pathways to IDR and TDR or is it a more general problem with the interface AHSS researchers have built with policy makers? The discussion was chaired by Professor Jane Ohlmeyer, Principal Investigator of the SHAPE-ID project, Director of the Trinity Long Room Hub and Chair of the Irish Research Council.
Jennifer Edmond, Associate Professor of Digital Humanities at Trinity College Dublin and President of the Board of Directors of DARIAH, raised the question on the minds of many – why are we still struggling to make a case for AHSS integration after many years of advocacy and evidence in its favour? She concluded that the underlying reason is “a systemic and pervasive bias towards STEM built into our funding programmes, policies and the language we use” and outlined several ways this needs to change. Firstly, we need greater parity of funding between STEM and AHSS, including technology or science projects led by AHSS researchers. Secondly, a broader vision of how to recruit AHSS researchers for evaluation is needed. It is often claimed by the EC that not enough AHSS evaluators are available, yet Jennifer’s research in TCD has shown that a significant number have registered as experts and never been called upon to evaluate proposals. One solution lies in funders not simply seeking highly specific disciplinary expertise for evaluation but seeking broader expertise in AHSS that can evaluate methods and approaches even outside their own discipline. Finally, efforts are needed from researchers themselves. We need STEM researchers actively seeking out insights from AHSS colleagues and we need support and training to develop, recognise and validate research careers spanning basic and applied, solo and collaborative research.
Jack Spaapen, Senior Policy Advisor at the Royal Netherlands Academy for Arts and Sciences, and SHAPE-ID partner, drew attention to the opportunities arising from the ‘new normal’ introduced by the Covid-19 crisis. In a short time, we have seen very sharply the entanglement of science and policy and the possibility of sudden change in responding to crisis, for instance in academic publishers dropping paywalls to enable access to research on vaccines, and the increased importance of inter- and transdisciplinarity in addressing such a broad and multi-dimensional problem. Jack then highlighted some findings from SHAPE-ID on the barriers to creating a better ecosystem for inter- and transdisciplinarity, including career risks for researchers, the time needed to build good relationships across silos and the need for capacity buildings on the part of universities to foster inter- and transdisciplinarity through education and training. Finally, Jack presented several recommendations on improving evaluation processes for research proposals: mixed evaluation panels including people with inter- and transdisciplinary expertise and experience of working with stakeholders; two-step application processes for proposals to enable applicants to learn from the feedback of evaluators; enabling projects where AHSS researchers lead; and focusing on collaboration, not competition.
Mary Doyle, Trinity Long Room Hub Public Policy Fellow and former Deputy Secretary General in the Department of Education and Skills (Irish Government), addressed the challenge of improving AHSS integration pathways from a policymaker’s perspective, arguing that change requires “concerted action on the part of a number of actors – academics, policymakers and funders” and that “each needs to better understand the world of the other.” She highlighted that the process of research and policymaking are similar in many respects, but policymaking is messy, contested and highly political, often with clear winners and losers, and is also highly time bound. To connect with policymakers, academics need a better understanding of their concerns and in seeking to formulate their message should consider a number of key questions the policymaker might consider, including Who sets the agenda? Who leads and from where? How is capacity built? How are issues resourced? What structure and mechanisms are needed to support a different approach? What does success look like? Mary emphasised the importance of higher education institutions, government departments and ministries, and research funders collectively committing and collaborating to strengthen the infrastructure for positive engagement with one another.
Attendees in the Zoom room joined us from all over Europe – from Brussels to Portugal, Norway to Italy, the Ukraine to Ireland – as well as from India, Canada, Argentina, Israel and South Africa, and others followed on our Facebook live stream. Questions from the audience stimulated a fascinating discussion after the presentations, addressing such topics as how to improve lobbying for greater AHSS funding and leadership nationally and at European level, the potential of programmes to embed AHSS researchers in residence in government departments and the challenges of stimulating dialogue between STEM and AHSS researchers and of framing call topics to encourage AHSS leadership. One of the most important points arising from the discussion was the need to work over the longer term to build these cross-disciplinary and cross-sectoral relationships.We’ve had a great response to our first two webinars and will be planning a further programme to commence in October 2020, with topics to include best practices in interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research and well as issues around funding programmes and capacity building for higher educational institutions. You can subscribe to our mailing list here to make sure you receive details of the new programme.