Responding to the growth of the research agenda

Åsa Olsson, Programme Director, LH Martin Institute for Tertiary Education Leadership and Management, University of Melbourne, Australia

Published 30 November 2016

Research leadership and management have become an ever more professionalised and blurred space. High-level leadership and management skills across various functions are integral to research institutions seeking to pursue strategic priorities and achieve excellence.

In the context of increased globalisation and competitiveness, research leaders and managers need to be better able to identify both the strengths and gaps in their institutions’ capabilities, in order to stay relevant and competitive.

In response to these needs, the LH Martin Institute for Tertiary Education Leadership and Management, based at the University of Melbourne, Australia, will partner with a selected number of research institutions to pilot a comprehensive suite of self-assessment instruments, which will assist institutions to improve and develop their research leadership and management relevant to their specific context.

Factors influencing research performance

The role of research in societies is influenced by the size and type of the national economy, as well as widely held norms and values as to what extent research should be funded by governments, and why.

National features that enhance or inhibit the performance of research and innovation efforts in institutions include the level of funding available for research, the way funding is allocated, and the availability of diversified funding sources. Moreover, the distribution of influence exerted by different government agencies, research organisations, funding bodies, and users of research outputs are important factors for the conduct and outcomes of research. The way in which decisions on research allocations are made will also influence research assessments and formal evaluations of research and innovation.

In this context, the challenges for leaders of research institutions are twofold:

  • Creating and maintaining effective institutional management systems, structures, and processes that suit their organisation’s needs in a national and increasingly international context
  • Building and sustaining research and innovation leadership and management capabilities at the unit level within their institution

Addressing these interdependent challenges requires organisations to assess existing organisational structures and the distribution of leadership and management capability across various functions of the institution.

Building responsive institutions

Today, research leaders and managers are expected to lead their institutions so they become responsive, entrepreneurial, and adaptive to the needs of society.

The transformation process of research institutions is partly influenced by policies that direct higher education, research, technology, and innovation. Notwithstanding variations, over the past 30 years countries have adopted a number of common approaches to strategically direct their capabilities in these areas. These include:

  • the establishment of national research priorities 
  • increasing the proportion of performance-based allocations of research funding
  • introducing new forms of oversight, regulation, and reporting requirements 
  • establishing new funding initiatives that promote internationalisation and the utility of research

These shifts in policy approaches have come to influence not only leadership and management practices at institutional level, but also at the level of faculties, schools, departments, centres and the like.

The changing conditions for the organisation and conduct of research have increased the complexity in leading and managing research institutions. As a result, there has been a growing professionalisation of research leadership on the one hand, and greater emphasis on management accountability on the other.

Building and sustaining a robust research and innovation culture

The research culture of any institution is maintained, enhanced, and transmitted through the combination of governance, leadership, and management processes, structures, and practices. Universities with a long history of research have an advantage compared to universities that have more recently developed from teaching intensive institutions. To change an institution from a teaching culture to a research and innovation culture is a long-term challenge for leaders and managers.

In recent years, more attention has been given to developing research and innovation culture as a means to become more entrepreneurial, adaptive to stakeholder needs, and commercially responsive. Many institutions have realised that this is more difficult to do than simply changing organisational structures. Indeed, it is easy to revise and implement a new organisation chart, but hard to reconfigure the hearts, minds, values, and habits of individuals.

Adopting, building up, and maintaining appropriate structures, processes, and systems to support research and innovation performance are both time consuming and challenging. These are multidisciplinary tasks that involve staff with different roles, and must be established with strong, unified oversight by members of governance structures and leaders in the institution.

Developing research leadership and management capabilities

The LH Martin Institute has developed a two-stage approach to assist institutions with the development of their capability in research leadership and management.

The first stage of this initiative is about identifying current research and innovation capabilities. To this end, we offer institutions a suite of instruments and measures to assist leaders and senior managers to understand and review their institutional systems, structures, and processes. The instruments comprise a comprehensive set of self-assessment surveys covering the areas summarised in the following figure:

The LH Martin 2 step process

Identifying institutional research and innovation capabilities

By completing the survey leaders are able to identify both the strengths and gaps in their research leadership and management capacities and capabilities across critical functions.

The second stage of this initiative is about improving the performance in research and innovation. This stage includes two collaborative steps. The first step involves analysing the results of the survey against other information from international sources, so that an institution’s stage of development can be viewed within the context of its national environment and international comparisons. The second step is to establish a partnership with individual institutions, or groups of institutions, to provide leadership and strategic development programmes. These programmes can be designed to build on the survey outcomes to assist in the development and implementation of change strategies.

Launching this self-assessment pilot scheme is one step towards the development of a more comprehensive approach to contextualised leadership programmes for enhancing research and innovation outcomes.

We are keen to work with partners who share our research and leadership development interests.


For more information, contact:

Åsa Olsson, Programme Director
LH Martin Institute for Tertiary Education Leadership and Management
Melbourne Centre for the Study of Higher Education

T: +61 3903 57508

E: asa.olsson@unimelb.edu.au

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