Hammering out the details: A toolbox for developing and sustaining effective researcher networks

Posted 14/06/2023 by Sarah Nalden

Dr Angela Midgley

Dr Angela Midgley, Researcher Developer, University of Liverpool and member of the Vitae Researcher Networks Working Group, tells us more about the development by the group of a new toolbox of resources for developing and sustaining effective researcher networks. 

Policy governing researcher career development [1] highlights the need to support researchers in becoming involved in institutional policy development and to build experience and understanding of the research system by participating in committees, societies and association. 

Vitae’s Researcher Networks working group was established to conceive and gather ways in which Vitae can support researcher communities through resources, events and initiatives, which has led to the creation of a Toolbox for Developing and Sustaining Effective Researcher Networks. 

A toolbox is a collection of adaptable ‘tools’ (or resources) that a particular community or audience can learn from and use in their own practice. Provided as a living resource on the Vitae website, the ‘Toolbox includes examples of good practice and will aid colleagues in nurturing researcher networks involving diverse stakeholders. 

Colleagues were asked to submit a case study via a form [2] advertised via Vitae’s website, social media and newsletters, and also shared within established researcher networks across many institutions and nations via members of the working group. This sought details including the type of network and its target audience, its usual activities and goals, how it evidences impact, and any actionable advice worth sharing. 

The form can be completed from the perspective of an organiser of the network or as a participant. For the Toolbox to be relevant to as many stakeholders as possible, we encouraged examples from: 

  • new and established researcher networks 

  • institutionally based networks 

  • external/multi-organisational networks 

  • departmental level, subject area-specific and interdisciplinary networks 

  • networks of differing sizes and demographics. 

To date, 30 individual organisations have contributed 33 case studies. A variety of networks have been covered, which include 11 institutional; 4 regional; 8 national and 7 international examples. Case studies have also provided examples across many career stages including postgraduate researchers (PGRs/PhD researcher, postdocs, and mid-career academics, as well as professional service staff supporting networks (like researcher developers) 

The wealth of case examples available have provided valuable insights, experience and advice on maintaining the sustainability of networks, their engagement with diverse and under-represented communities, and their capacity to drive positive change in the research system. 

Researcher networks contributing to the Toolbox highlighted the critical importance of establishing practices that support the core membership, as well as documenting the network’s purpose or mission. Networks can serve as development opportunities for those researchers participating in them, such as by providing a forum for building leadership and management skills, or by supporting their membership in its career planning within and beyond academia. 

Many case examples captured the representational power networks offer when shaping policy and practice through advocacy initiatives. As a conduit for feedback, researcher networks have the capacity to raise awareness of marginalised groups and report the impact of policy development on researchers’ lives and careers. 

Members of Vitae’s Researcher Networks working group were also able to collate examples of practice and recommendations for networks representing specific populations, providing eventual users of the Toolbox with the chance to embed a raft of activities or processes relevant to their community. 

The toolbox is in the final stages of development and will be published in Autumn 2022. In addition, an open access panel discussion made up of representatives from different networks that who have submitted case studies will take place during the Vitae International Researcher Development Conference in September 2022 and will accompany the Toolbox’s publication. 

Do you have a case study that you could showcase as an example?

If you have a case study that you would like to be considered for inclusion in the Toolboxplease complete the form.