New ‘culture’ needed for better collaborative heritage science research

15 January 2014

A working culture and longer-term approach to funding that reflects the changing landscape of heritage science is essential for delivering impactful research, a team representing several of the UK’s foremost cultural and academic institutions has found.

Margate Newgate Gap

The AHRC/EPSRC* Science and Heritage Programme funded project, Mind the Gap: Rigour and Relevance in Heritage Science Research examined the perceived gap between researchers (often based in academia) and users of research (often based in heritage institutions), thought to be hindering effective collaboration and limiting the impact of research.

The authors of the report, by staff from the UCL Centre for Sustainable Heritage, The National Archives, Tate, and University of Exeter, found the sharp distinction between researchers and users was inaccurate, with a growing group of professionals identifying themselves as spanning both roles.

The report emphasises the need for heritage science to respond to this reality and recommends that funding extends over longer periods to grow and sustain partnerships between organisations committed to promoting collaborative heritage science research.

The surprising absence of a gap between rigour and relevance, often assumed, yet actually populated by hybrid researchers, indicates clear ways of how to increase the impact of publicly funded collaborative research.

Dr Matija Strlic (UCL Centre for Sustainable Heritage)

Dr Matija Strlic (UCL Centre for Sustainable Heritage) said: “We’re really excited to present this first quantitative research study of the opinions of collaborative heritage science researchers. The surprising absence of a gap between rigour and relevance, often assumed, yet actually populated by hybrid researchers, indicates clear ways of how to increase the impact of publicly funded collaborative research.”

The research highlights the distinct features of the culture necessary to support effective collaborative research and makes a series of recommendations for researchers, research organisations and funders.

Recommendations

The report is based on a study, led by UCL Centre for Sustainable Heritage, of 210 participants involved in collaborative heritage science projects. The research highlights the distinct features of the culture necessary to support effective collaborative research and makes a series of recommendations for researchers, research organisations and funders.

Specifically, universities and cultural organisations are advised to publicise their research strategies and provide suitable support to research teams. In turn researchers should make clear how their proposals meet the goals of their research organisations and build in enough time to develop a common language among project partners. Secondments between academic and cultural organisations to cultivate professionals whose roles span both researcher and practitioner are also advised.

The importance of the approach taken by funding bodies was also addressed, suggesting that prior to funding complex collaborative projects, that networking groups or projects be initiated as a valuable way for trust to develop naturally over a longer time frame. Additionally, funders should consider developing training packages for prospective collaborative researchers.

The report suggests that some of the recommendations could be achieved by promoting best practice collaboration in the field of heritage science and through pre-project partnership funding for organisations to establish stronger foundations for collaborative research.

“Our research reveals that achieving successful collaboration in the field of heritage science is a complex and dynamic process,” said Nancy Bell of The National Archives and principal investigator for the project.

She continued: “As funders are increasingly championing interdisciplinary research projects to address some of society’s biggest challenges, the quality of collaboration will be even more important in the delivery of effective research with meaningful outcomes”. She added: “While technology is making collaboration easier, people remain central to its success”.

Links

Image

  • ‘Bridging the gap’- Margate, Newgate Gap, Cliftonville, 1930s (Courtesy of The National Archives)