Closing the researcher-practitioner gap. An exploration of the impact of an AHRC networking grant

Pages1056-1081
Date09 September 2019
DOIhttps://doi.org/10.1108/JD-12-2018-0212
Publication Date09 September 2019
AuthorHazel Hall,Peter Cruickshank,Bruce Ryan
SubjectLibrary & information science
Closing the
researcher-practitioner gap
An exploration of the impact of an
AHRC networking grant
Hazel Hall, Peter Cruickshank and Bruce Ryan
Centre for Social Informatics, Edinburgh Napier University, Edinburgh, UK
Abstract
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to investigate the extent to which learning gained through
participation in three research methods workshops funded by an Arts and Humanities Research Council
networking grant was applied in practice.
Design/methodology/approach Data were collected by online survey and focus group from individuals
who participated in theDeveloping ResearchExcellence and Methods(DREaM) projectworkshops in 2011/2012.
The survey data were coded and analysed manually,as were the transcribed focus group discussions.
Findings Following the conclusion of the DREaM project the participants at the core of the network
applied their learning from the workshops to innovate in the workplace and to develop information services,
with evident impact on end-users of library and information services. The strongest impact of the DREaM
project, however, was found in reports of widened opportunities for the researcher and practitioner cadre
members, many of which arose from collaborations. This provides evidence of a second proven strategy (in
addition to the provision of research reports in practitioner publications) for narrowing the library and
information science (LIS) research-practice gap: the creation of researcher-practitioner networks.
Research limitations/implications Collaborative interactions between academic researchers and
practitioners bring benefits to both network participants themselves and to the wider communities with
which they interact. These are likely to be applicable across a range of subject domains and geographies.
Practical implications Network grants are valuable for furnishing learning that may be applied in
practice, and for bridging the research-practice gap.
Social implications In LIS and other domains that suffer from a research-practice gap (e.g. teaching,
social work, nursing, policing, management) the bringing together of researchers and practitioners in
networks may address problems associated with misunderstandings between the two communities, and lead
to improved services provision.
Originality/value This study provides an evaluation of network development that goes beyond simply
reporting changes in network topology. It does so by assessing the value that network relationships provide
to individuals and groups, extending knowledge on mechanisms of collaborative interaction within research
networks. It is also the first detailed study of the impact of a UK research council networking grant.
Keywords Collaboration, Research, Skills, Librarians, Research methods, Communities, Practitioners
Paper type Research paper
1. Introduction
This paper is concerned with the impact of an Arts and Humanities Research Council
networking grant that was awarded in 2011 to the UK library and information science (LIS)
community, and supported by the UK LIS Research Coalition. The findings are drawn from
a detailed analysis of data supplied by those who participated at the core of the Developing
Research Excellence and Methods (DREaM) network in 2011/2012. They relate to
applications of learning to practice as reported by the individuals who participated in three
DREaM network research methods workshops. As such, it is the first in-depth study of the
impact of a UK research council networking grant.
In the analysis presented below it is shown that these core network members drew on
their increased research knowledge and confidence from participation in the DREaM
workshops to innovate in the workplace. In the case of LIS practitioner members, this led to
the initiation of a number of changes to library and information services delivery for the
benefit of end users. The most significant impact of participation in the programme,
Journal of Documentation
Vol. 75 No. 5, 2019
pp. 1056-1081
© Emerald PublishingLimited
0022-0418
DOI 10.1108/JD-12-2018-0212
Received 19 December 2018
Revised 6 March 2019
Accepted 8 March 2019
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
www.emeraldinsight.com/0022-0418.htm
1056
JD
75,5
however, is the amount of research-related opportunities that opened up to the membership
following the completion of the programme. Many of these have been undertaken jointly,
and include, for example, team bids for research funding, collaborative event organisation,
and co-authored research outputs.
By presenting an evaluation that goes beyond a simple report of network topology, the
work reported here responds to calls in the LIS literature to consider the value that network
relationships provide to individuals and groups (e.g. Schultz-Jones, 2009 ). This topic has been
identifiedas a crucialto the analysis ofsocial networks (Shiau et al., 2017).This new work is
also significant for its contribution to extant knowledge on mechanisms of collaborative
interaction within research networks, building on the work of scholars such as Rienties and
Nolan (2014). Here, for the first time, it is proven that a second strategy can narrow the LIS
research-practice gap - in addition to the provision of evidence summaries in the professional
press (Kloda et al., 2014). This is the creation of researcher-practitioner networks.
Given the growing global interest in research impact in general (Marcella et al., 2016,
p. 370), and the identified need for enlarging the body of advice and expertise on this theme
(Marcella et al., 2018, p. 617), the findings will be of international appeal to academics and
practitioners alike, and especially to those interested in the practical value of research
networks established to bring together researchers and practitioners.
Since this work is a contribution to the body of knowledge in LIS on research impact, the
first section of the paper is devoted to consideration of the treatment of this theme in the
extant literature. Particular attention is paid here to prior investigations of research impact
that focus on the relationship between LIS research and practice. An account of the research
design and its implementation then follows. Thereafter the findings of the study are
presented and discussed. The paper concludes with a statement of the main contributions of
this study to knowledge on research impact in LIS, and proposals for the future
development of work of this nature for the benefit for LIS researchers and practitioners, as
well as end-users of the library and information services that the two communities of
professionals support.
2. Literature review
2.1 Research impact
The impact of academic research and its measurement is an important research topic,
particularly at a time when value for money in public spending is paramount (Cruickshank
et al., 2011; Given et al., 2015, pp. 1-7). As is noted on the website of the International School
on Research Impact Assessment (n.d.):
The importance of research impact assessment is growing as organisations are required to be
accountable for public and donor money invested in research, to analyse and learn how to fund
research effectively, to advocate for future R&D investments, to allocate research funds for
optimising returns, and to maximise the value of the money invested.
For example, the research excellence framework (REF), designed and implemented to assess
academic research in the UK, requires the submission of impact evidence for research by
universities[1]. Similarly Excellence in Research for Australia states that its mission is to to
deliver policy and programs that advance Australian research and innovation globally and
benefit the community[2]. (For further details of the evolution of research impact and
assessment in the UK and Australia, please see Williams and Grant, 2018.)
Such requirements fuel debate as to the classification of impact, as well as confusion
amongst those asked to demonstrate it (Nutley et al., 2007, p. 295; Given et al., 2015, p. 4).
In REF terms, for example, impact has been defined as a benefit to the economy, society,
culture, public policy or services, health, the environment or quality of life beyond academia.
The straightforward use of one persons research output by another as a citation and
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Closing the
researcher-
practitioner
gap

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