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Establishing and developing a research network

Following on from last week’s blog on planning a centre’s research funding strategy, Jonathan Rans, Strategic Research Executive, now takes a look at research networks and introduces our new guide for University of Edinburgh Network Directors.

We have a rich and varied research landscape at the University of Edinburgh, with a whole range of structures enabling and promoting interdisciplinary research. These range from vast institutes spanning multiple schools and colleges through to focused, agile and virtual collections of researchers. All are vital to fostering an environment of collaboration. They are the drivers of multi- and interdisciplinary research central to society’s response to grand, intractable challenges like climate change, energy poverty and income inequality.

New guidance resource for researchers

To support researchers, we have released a guide to establishing, developing and evolving a research network which is one of a number of resources available through the Edinburgh Research Office Insights and Intelligence intranet site (UoE staff access only). This guide introduces various aspects to consider, including what you will gain from the experience as an individual, how to define the relationship of a network to its members and how to make a network a success with little to no funding. This guide is complementary to one focusing on developing a research funding strategy for research centres (UoE staff access only).

Explore external funding

Of course, it is much easier to build the membership of a network and progress its goals quickly if you have external funding that supports a focused range of activities. For that reason, we would always encourage you to explore this option, even though a lack of funding is no barrier to running a successful network.

Most major funders and charities support network-building activity in one way or another. If you are going to pursue one of the many options, consider what your network offers to help funders meet their own goals. Emphasis will vary from funder to funder but all will want to see the network enabling some or all of the following:

  • Leadership/originality – The network should demonstrate leadership, both in its research activity, which should be at the forefront of knowledge creation, and in its Director, who should be capable of driving the success of the network’s activities and galvanising the membership. What does the network do which no-one else is doing? Why should it exist?
  • Sustainability – How growing the network can be of long-term benefit to the academic community?
  • Impact – How does the network amplify the research of its members?
  • Innovation – How does the network bring new methodologies to bear on critical research areas?
  • Collaboration – How will this network establish fruitful connections where previously there have been none?

In addition to answering the questions above, a network in receipt of funder support will also need to show well-designed structures supporting governance and knowledge exchange.

Support from Edinburgh Research Office

If you are interested in setting up a research network and want to access the support that Edinburgh Research Office can offer, please contact Jonathan Rans, Strategic Research Executive.

Additional resources to help research planning in your network are available on the Edinburgh Research Office Insights and Intelligence intranet site. These include:

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Jonathan Rans


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