Workshop #1: Cambridge

How can we transform academic cultures to promote solutions-oriented sustainability work?

On June 19, 2019, we convened at the David Attenborough Building in Cambridge, England at the end of May for the first in a series of Beyond the Academy workshops. The 28 attendees included administrators, faculty, staff and early career researchers from 12 universities in the U.S., Canada, and UK, as well as representation from non-governmental, industry, and self-employed sectors.

We approached this workshop with three goals in mind:

  1. Establish a shared understanding of the state of the research and practice on measuring impact and rewarding scholarship. We defined impact as “engaged, actionable, solutions-oriented work that advances sustainability in a diverse and changing world.” Though we commonly measure a number of things in academia – number of publications, citations, grant income – these traditional metrics are insufficient for measuring real-world impact. On Day 1 of the workshop, we heard a summary of the literature calling for better indicators, and some ideas for new ways of assessing research impact that could be adapted to a number of academic contexts. (More on this in a future post).
  2. Identify persistent barriers to measuring and rewarding impact. On Day 2, we turned the microscope on the Beyond the Academy network. We heard a summary of research investigating the policies of Beyond the Academy institutions and the perspectives of network members. We found that, although institutional mission statements prioritized public service and societal impact, tenure policies did not incentivize engaged scholarship. A survey of Beyond the Academy members indicated that time constraints and lack of recognition were major barriers to doing engaged work.
  3. Co-develop a roadmap for addressing these barriers. On Day 1 of the workshop, we brainstormed ideas for future directions for the network and informally voted on which of these directions we thought were most important. On Day 2, we broke into small groups to focus on each of the top topics. We ended the workshop by taking turns noting aloud the specific actions each of us would be focusing on to make impact at our home institutions. Examples of proposed actions included: developing standardized templates for impact statements; developing a platform for sharing compelling stories of impactful research; challenging cultures of academic elitism; creating and supporting a community for early career researchers; and growing the Beyond the Academy network.

There was a palpable energy in the room at the close of the workshop, and it was clear that our members are committed to taking action and making change. As project coordinator for the Beyond the Academy network, I look forward to documenting actions taken by network members as we move forward towards our goals.

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