Recommendations on Open Research Agenda Setting

The following recommendations for the establishment and the furthering of an effective framework for ORAS initiatives are addressed to three target groups: university management, administrative staff and researchers.

Recommendations for University Management

There is great potential for universities to improve their support for Third Mission activities and stakeholder engagement in general and ORAS in particular. This includes changes on a number of levels and in a number of departments, some small and quick and some more systemic and long-term. Support is needed at several stages of the Open Research Agenda Setting process, the main objective being to institutionalize certain steps and formalities of ORAS activities to an extent, thereby effectively systematizing them, rather than leaving everything to individual researchers on a case-by-case basis.

Establish a supportive environment

A significant step in promoting ORAS/stakeholder engagement is to make it known that the university explicitly wants and supports societal engagement activities. This can be achieved by offering several support services and opportunities that are regularly communicated and advertised in appropriate contexts. Since these services described in more detail below require continuity in building up and maintaining experience, universities should provide resources for these additional tasks, primarily in the form of working hours. To motivate them, researchers should perceive clear commitment by the university to ORAS and other stakeholder engagement processes and they should be aware that they are being offered initial support in planning and implementation of activities.

Designate a contact point and coordinate support services

In order to realize this supportive environment a crucial step is to designate a contact point on stakeholder engagement. It serves as a helpdesk for researchers who are new to engagement activities, but also as a contact point for administration and university management. It coordinates existing and new support services at the institution and spreads the information about those services as well as stakeholder engagement processes in general. Furthermore, this service should also be offered for external stakeholders who want to cooperate with the university.

Develop training and education opportunities on stakeholder engagement and community management for researchers and students

The universities should offer targeted training on stakeholder engagement and ORAS. From defining a suitable activity for engagement, over planning and evaluating the activity as well as communication with stakeholders, there are many aspects that need to be considered and pitfalls that should be taken into account. Here, a comprehensive training for researchers and administrative staff and a formal education of students will enhance the effectiveness of activities as well as the proficiency of researchers who want to try participatory approaches. Finally, it should be the goal to implement this education offer in curricula, e.g., together with other Open Science topics.

Reinforce existing and create new partnerships with stakeholders

In the environment of a university, numerous stakeholder associations can be identified, such as local NGOs, interest groups, school administrations and others. To build up a network with those important institutions would help to more easily attract persons from target groups for engagement activities. Furthermore, this network would help to disseminate information on events and activities in a more targeted manner and therefore possibly with more impact.

Provide non-bureaucratic funding opportunities for stakeholder workshops, e.g., in form of mini grants

ORAS often can be realized in smaller workshops that last a half to one day. Setting up funding to realize easy to acquire local grants with low barriers in terms of application and administration allows researchers to get to know the methods in practice and to make first experiences in engaging with stakeholders. This experience is very valuable for them if they want to integrate ORAS activities in future project proposals, not only because they could use it as a reference, but also because they get a better feeling for realization in terms of time management, budget and community management.

Adopt Open Science policies and guidelines to create an organizational and legal framework

ORAS is not just standing for itself. It is a part of a major process of opening up the research process for persons outside academia and is therefore part of the Open Science movement. When thinking about a supportive and beneficial framework to advance ORAS and stakeholder engagement, it should be integrated in a bigger process of strategic implementation of Open Science. The way of collaboration with laypersons and experts outside academia should be addressed in open science policies and guidelines. Further recommendations can be found in the Arqus Openness Position Paper 1, especially within the elements Citizen Science, Communication and Open Innovation.

Implement alternative assessment approaches for research and reward societal engagement activities

Universities’ third mission is increasingly highlighted, as are openness and the social responsibility of research. However, there is a lack of incentives for researchers to engage in these missions. On the contrary, researchers are often indirectly penalized by pursuing such stakeholder engagement activities in the form of their career assessment which does not consider their outreach efforts. Research/researcher assessment needs to include and adequately recognize and reward third mission activities. There has been increasing effort to develop alternative assessment approaches for academic careers, such as for example the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA), the Leiden Manifesto or the European University Association’s (EUA) Open Science Career Assessment Matrix (OS-CAM). This is a key change to adopt so that researchers are able and willing to spend resources and pursue these important missions.

Set up institutional incentives in order to stimulate practicing ORAS

Due to high workloads and complexities in their work life, it sometimes may be difficult for researchers to adopt new approaches and test unknown tools. These aspects ask additional effort and bring uncertainty for success with it. Universities can set up incentives, in order to motivate researchers practicing ORAS and taking these additional burdens.

Foster the exchange of experiences/materials and connect community networks of institutions with partner institutions

The efficiency and impact of our work will grow when universities start to share materials and collaborate in terms of resources with other research institutions. Guidelines, forms, training materials, education plans should be adapted to local needs. However, the overarching issues stay the same, making me the material relevant for other institutions.

Recommendations for Administrative Staff

Open Research Agenda Setting not only needs thorough planning, there are challenging steps and processes that are underestimated in terms of effort and relevance. This is why help and support services of the universities are important in these points. They can also provide continuity and gain longer-term experience, which are always a difficulty in the project logic which is typical for research. A long-term perspective in the support services would also be important for community management. Some of these services already exist at universities and simply need to be made findable and available to researchers planning engagement activities, others need to be adapted to the needs of stakeholder engagement/ORAS.

Support communication with stakeholders by guidelines and assistance of the press office

One of the most challenging steps in stakeholder engagement, namely the recruitment process (for example in finding the right participants for the endeavor) could also benefit from more accessible and consolidated support. Moreover, also publicity, presentation and dissemination of results profit from professional advice. This could include more help from communication departments, as well as help in finding suitable mailing lists that are already existing within the university (e.g., departments, student lists etc.).

Provide legal support e.g., forms and guidelines for compliance with general data protection regulations and copyright law

One of the major barriers to conduct stakeholder engagement activities is the uncertainty of legal framework conditions when working with persons outside academia. Information and support are needed in analyzing the necessary steps (for example copyright issues or confidentiality regulations), and drafting the necessary documents, such as data protection texts. Issues of privacy and data protection need to be taken seriously in any stakeholder engagement process, and researchers need to be supported and aided by qualified staff at the university. Increasing awareness for these issues as well as low barriers to legal support allow to reduce the risk for accidental breaches of the legal guidelines.

Set-up and maintain a pool of technical equipment like recorders and microphones

In order to properly document and record the ORAS process, a number of technological devices can be necessary, especially audio or video recording equipment that researchers often do not privately have access to. It is helpful if the university maintains a number of these devices and allows access to them in a non-bureaucratic way. Furthermore, a guide with tips and tricks for proper use of this equipment can be useful, as for example which recording settings are needed for which environment, thinking about testing the equipment before use or checking the power supply. If the recording fails due to technical issues, then an irretrievable opportunity is lost.

Provide consultation sessions and implementation support

Setting up consultations on topics as for example the engagement process, methods, personal data management, IP and legal matters helps to reduce uncertainties and to adequately address concerns. Further, especially in the beginning of this transition phase to open up research, it is advisable to offer support in implementing new methods and techniques. Once stakeholder engagement activities have become more common, the experiences will be shared within the research departments as well and support effort will be reduced over time.

Establish a community management infrastructure or database together with communication guidelines and support

Access to key stakeholders is one of the major challenges in conducting ORAS, however, decisive for the quality of the outcome. While complying with data protection regulations, there could be ways in which research support offices or other management services aid researchers in providing information on current or previous collaboration partners the university has had. This could also mean identifying corporations or businesses the university has worked with previously and who could be a contact person or multiplier to reach out to.

Publish a check-list with information on support, services, software, contact persons available at the university concerning stakeholder engagement activities

Planning and carrying out ORAS events include a number of steps that are usually not daily business for researchers, mainly when it comes to logistics and planning – some of which have been addressed above. Especially for first-time ORAS practitioners, there is a lot to figure out, and acquiring the right information can be slow and piecemeal. To facilitate ORAS activities, universities should actively provide this information, instead of requiring every researcher to gather the pieces on their own.

A main recommendation is to make already existing knowledge around planning events and ORAS activities easily accessible to anyone who might want to plan such an activity. A basic step could be to have one page on the university website/intranet including a checklist for eventplanning and a link to relevant contact persons or services, basically bundling the necessary information. This website could be kept up-to-date by the contact point mentioned above.

The following points are examples on relevant information and support:

  • General Data Protection Regulation and necessary forms
  • Ethical advice
  • Communication guidelines including corporate design
  • An overview of available and suitable rooms with a guide of how to book them
  • Catering regulations and/or preferred options
  • Access to technical equipment such as microphones or audio recording devices
  • Access to other materials (paper, office supplies, other goods that might be useful)
  • Any further services the university provides

Offer support for research proposal writing

Open Science approaches gain more relevance in the evaluation of research proposals and dedicated calls for more societal participation in research become more frequent. Therefore, in order to be assertive and successful in the acquisition of third-party funding, it is important to help identifying relevant funding opportunities and to offer support in integrating and addressing stakeholder engagement activities adequately in the research proposals.

Recommendations for Researchers

Researchers are the driving force behind stakeholder engagement by integrating inclusive activities in their scientific work and by developing participatory research projects. On the one hand, since stakeholder engagement is complex and demanding work, researchers should accept support offers provided by the university. On the other hand, they should help to improve the offer by conducting evaluation steps and providing feedback.

Find out about and take up university offers supporting stakeholder engagement activities

The success of a supportive environment at universities in order to integrate ORAS and other stakeholder engagement activities depends on the collaboration of all three involved levels of the institution: research, administration and management. Researchers should be encouraged to take advantage of support offers by their institution and thereby improving their community management capacities.

Participate in advanced training offers

To manage stakeholder engagement activities as ORAS in high quality, researchers are advised to make use of advanced training offers on participatory research and on didactic methods. The training enables participants to get to know the numerous possibilities of participation in research and to better assess the impact of different variants on the expected outcomes.

Evaluate the engagement activities you conduct and provide feedback to supporting bodies of the university

Inform about missing support or resources, as lacking infrastructure

In case there is any support missing or resources lacking, it would be important to pass this information to the helpdesk, office or other administrative staff in charge of achieving such changes. This helps to avoid shortage of support or materials for the next engagement activities.

Engage in community management by providing information on stakeholder acquisition and usage of engagement outcomes

It is crucial to care about the persons who engaged and put effort in research activities on a longer-term basis. ORAS should be seen as an initial step in a longer lasting partnership between stakeholders and researchers or research institutions. In its ideal form, stakeholder engagement is an ongoing process that involves dialogue and information exchange. It is recommended to create and maintaining a network of partners/stakeholders in relevant fields of research in order to facilitate practicing ORAS, for example through easier search and recruitment of participants or access to relevant expertise.

Be aware of the (facilitation) demands for ORAS

As discussed previously, stakeholder engagement can be highly rewarding in terms of outreach as well as input into a project. However, the steps to conduct such a task should not be taken without adequate preparation. Researchers should make use of existing guidelines and toolboxes to benefit from previous experiences and expertise, such as the Arqus Toolbox on Open Research Agenda Setting.


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