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Arma 2024: Ten pillars of equitable research

 Image: Andriy Onufriyenko, via Getty Images

New tool can help make projects fair and responsible, say Megan McLoughlin and Zaynab Seedat

The effort to make research more fair, responsible and accessible goes by many names: responsible research and innovation, research culture, open research, decolonisation, equality, diversity and inclusion. 

These terms mean different things to different people and in different contexts. But fundamentally they share a mission to make research processes and outputs more equitable, and give an insight into how research is carried out.

Through our project, Valuing Voices for Equitable and Responsible Research, led by the University of York and Mahidol University in Thailand, we’re trying to bring these different approaches together to create a practical tool to improve research processes. This will help both researchers and research enablers to plan, deliver, and evaluate research with equity and responsibility at its core. 

As part of this project, we’re developing an Equitable and Responsible Research Tool underpinned by 10 principles, each with an associated outcome: 

1. Appropriateness, using research processes that fit the context—political, economic or social—and needs of beneficiaries. 

2. Co-production of research agendas, methods, insights and recommendations with partners, beneficiaries and end users.

3. Interdisciplinarity, giving different disciplinary perspectives equal value.

4. Team equity and diversity across career stages, roles, and personal and cultural perspectives, supported by appropriate team structures and leadership roles.

5. Anticipation and mitigation of risks, including assumptions.

6. Sustainability, identifying and reducing the environmental impacts of research.

7. Ownership, giving partners and collaborators ownership
of findings, recommendations and products and fair attribution on outputs.

8. Access to findings.

9. Public engagement, sharing findings and insights to benefit wider society. 

10. Reflection through collaborative monitoring, evaluation and learning incorporated into research design and implementation.

Teams will consider the principles within the context of their planned project, developing actions and indicators of success to achieve their selected outcomes. Supporting information, such as examples of actions and case studies, will help teams through this process. Reflexivity is a key element of the tool, encouraging research teams to set points during a project to stop and think about whether their actions are leading to the outcomes intended.

We don’t expect all research to interact with every principle. But every project should reflect on all 10, and aim to engage with several. For example, a project choosing to focus on team equity and diversity could use the tool to reflect on what success would look like and decide that it is a gender-balanced team. They could then work back from this to plan their recruitment process.

Another team, working with partners in the global south, might focus on the ownership of research. They decide that an appropriate outcome would be for two-thirds of publications from the project to be first-authored by colleagues in the global south. To achieve this, they plan collaborative writing workshops at key points during the project.

Over the next year, we’ll be testing the principles of our tool and how they work with real-life projects at our two universities, refining as we go. We’ll also explore a range of interventions to achieve equity within teams and global partnerships. 

We’ll share our evaluations of what works with the research community. The tool and all the resources we create will be fully accessible and open for all to use. 

We believe the tool will do more than benefit the immediate research teams and their partners, or create a general sense of doing the right thing.

Rather, we envision that using it will lead to better research, helping projects to achieve their goals. And with increasing numbers of funders requiring applications to address many of the tool’s principles, the resulting projects should better fit funders’ criteria. Hopefully it’s a win-win.

As research professionals, we play a crucial part in setting and steering research culture. We support research projects at every stage: from identifying funding opportunities and helping researchers to develop robust research ideas, through to managing projects and supporting impact. 

That’s why research enablers are a central part of this work, whether that’s taking on leadership roles, feeding into consultations as the project develops, or being trained to embed culture change within our organisations. As such, it’s important that our voices are not only heard, but valued. 

Research Professional News is media partner for the 2024 conference of the Association of Research Managers and Administrators, held from 18 to 19 June in Brighton

Megan McLoughlin is head of the Building Research and Innovation Capacity team, and Zaynab Seedat is a training and resource development officer, at the University of York. They will be speaking at at the 2024 conference of the Association of Research Managers and Administrators in Brighton on Wednesday 19 June

This article also appeared in Research Fortnight and a version appeared in Research Europe