Evolving the Researcher Development Framework (RDF) – the story so far…

Posted 14/06/2023 by 9a4fa0b2-a68f-44ca-95b6-a2b900c1471a

Dr Kate Jones

By Dr Kate Jones, Vitae, Head of Learning and  Professional Development                                

Activities around the evolution of the RDF have really progressed since the ‘World Café’ took place at Vitae Connections Week last year.  Our discussions in September 2021 about the development of the researchers of the future and the interconnectedness of research and innovation systems have not only helped progress Vitae’s ongoing RDF refresh project but have also led to several new projects involving contextual adaptations of the framework. 

Following the launch last year of an £8m initiative by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), and the Office for Students, to help reduce inequalities for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic students in Higher Education, Vitae is collaborating with the University of Essex on their project, 'Transitions and Transformations: The Black Researcher’s Journey'. The project is designed to support transitions to and through postgraduate research for UK-domiciled black researchers – currently the group currently least likely to be included in or progress in research. As part of this, a consultation phase is currently underway to understand if and how the Vitae ‘Getting Started in Research’ lens works for pre-researchers (undergraduate and taught masters) who are black. The information gathered will be invaluable in understanding how the RDF can be adapted to take account of recent developments in thinking and language around equality, diversion and inclusion in HE, research and innovation.  

Iinterest in the RDF has been sparked further afield too. Over the past year, Vitae has been working with a governmental research agency in New Zealand, to create a bespoke version of the Vitae RDF framework that is conducive to its institutional context and career progression criteria and processes. This is an important project for understanding the RDF in relation to research contexts beyond academia and demonstrates that the researcher competencies described by the RDF may be mapped to competency and professional development frameworks and policies across sectors, globally. 

Alongside this, Vitae is working to discover how the RDF can benefit from the innovation potential of Mäori knowledge, people and resources through an understanding of Vision Matauranga: Vision Matauranga (mbie.govt.nz). Australasia is certainly a current RDF hotspot as Vitae has also recently embarked on a four-year project with Vitae Member, the University of Queensland, Australia to roll out the Vitae RDF and the RDF Planner across the institution.  

RDF at an angle

Moving continents, we will soon be starting work on a project with Indian institutions to develop a programme of researcher development that will involve some adaptation of the RDF to the Indian research context. 

In Europe, our links to European institutions, funders and networks are really helping to inform the RDF refresh too. We were interviewed for a policy study as part of the new European Research Area (ERA) on behalf of the EU Commissionand interviewed as part of series of four international peer-learning seminars to enhance the labour market relevance and outcomes of higher education organised by The OECD and the European Commission. 

Vitae also contributed to the NCUB’s State of the Relationship Report, published in December 2021. The contribution noted that feedback from Vitae Members and the wider community showed that there is scope for the RDF to be further mapped and connected to HE policies, agreements and frameworks at local and national levels. Our recent projects have certainly evidenced this. The RDF needs to help researchers make sense of new environments, whether a new institution, sector or country and be useful for future employers of researchers within and beyond academia. So, our focus is set on how the RDF can more fully meet the needs of researchers doing research both within and beyond academia and those who go beyond research into other parts of higher education or other sectors. Part of this will be preparing to work with employers to further understand the future researcher skills, knowledge and behaviours that they need.  

Such developments enable the RDF to continue to provide a universal language that describes the competencies of effective researchers – a feature that is highly valued by current users – while also aiding all stakeholders to make the most of the RDF in their more specific contexts. The work we have done over the past year on all these projects contributes to our understanding of the ways in which the RDF may need to evolve and flex to the current research environment and culture in the UK and globally. It sends a clear message that this can be achieved and not by fundamentally changing the RDF but by thinking about how it connects with the wider environment, including the changing priorities of government, funders and publishers and expectations of employers across all sectors.  

The possibilities around RDF adaptations by Vitae, to suit different environments, research cultures and contexts, present some very exciting opportunities for researchers of the future globally and for those who support them. Look out for further update on progress on the RDF refresh project and outcomes at Vitae Connections Week 2022 in September.