Embedding a positive culture

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Frances Downey

Frances Downey, head of research and innovation culture at UKRI, explains the formation of the organisation’s Good Research Resource Hub

Tell us a little about your background and qualifications, and how you came to work at UKRI... 

Working at UKRI gives an amazing opportunity to lead programmes that create tangible systems change. For those of us for whom research and innovation policy floats their boat, there are few other places that offer this kind of platform. As Head of R&I Culture, I and my team are leading a broad range of exciting projects, covering a wide array of topics and engaging with people across the system. I find it a very interesting and intellectually engaging space to be in.

Prior to working at UKRI, I led the research culture programme at the Royal Society. Here I developed Integrity in Practice and also the Resume for Researchers. This work culminated in the Society’s landmark conference on research culture in October 2018; Changing Expectations.

I have also worked at the Royal Academy of Engineering, Sense About Science, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Department for Energy and Climate Change. I have a PhD in Biophysics. I am co-founder of www.MetisTalk.com, a platform to share, discuss and challenge ideas around research culture.

Tell us about UKRI’s Good Research Resource Hub and how it came together …

The UKRI Research and Innovation Culture team was formed in 2019 and one of our first objectives was to think about how UKRI could use its unique position as one the largest research funders in the UK to support the creation of environments that embed a positive culture.

As part of a wider programme of work, we undertook a review the various policies and guidance across the organisation related to research ethics, responsible innovation and the overall good conduct of research. This exercise helped identify gaps and opportunities for harmonising our policies and guidance with a view to producing a UKRI rather than council-specific guidance. This would help streamline the information and reduce bureaucracy.

A group bringing together subject matter experts across the organisation was created and made recommendations as to what should be included on a future ‘one-stop-shop hub’, later to be known as the Good Research Resource Hub.  This has two functions; to clearly state UKRI’s expectations for how we operate but also how we expect those we fund to operate so we can collectively promote positive culture change. Thanks to all the great work from this group and the help our web team, we were able to launch the Good Research Resources Hub in October of 2020, which also coincided with the launch of UKRI’s new website. 

How do you think the Hub will benefit the research community, and the general scholarly communications landscape?

The Hub is an invaluable collection of resources for the research and innovation community as it brings together the latest guidance and policies developed across a range of organisations to set the highest standards for conducting good research. Curated by experts and freely available it means the best guidance on conducting good research is at everyone’s fingertips. Resources available include but are not limited to research involving animals, human and biological samples, responsible innovation, equitable partnerships and open research. It will support the community in embedding the highest ethical standards throughout the research cycle, from planning and design, to engagement and publication. This will undoubtedly have a positive impact on the scholarly communications landscape.

What are your wider hopes for the academic publishing industry for the next 10 years?

In the next 10 years I would hope to see open and transparent research publication being a matter of course and business as usual. The recently launched UKRI Open Access policy aims to ensure that findings from research funded by the public through UKRI can be freely accessed, used and built on. I would hope that this will have supported the ongoing movement towards a more open and transparent system.

Lastly, do you have any interesting hobbies or interests that you want to tell us about?

I love swimming – lake swimming, lido swimming and sea swimming. Earlier this month I swam 2.5km as part of the Swimathon for CRUK and Marie Curie.

Interview by Tim Gillett