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How do you increase academic engagement to achieve IAA success?

A Strategic Approach

The Impact Acceleration Account (IAA) offers a powerful vehicle for translating academic research into socio-economic impact. However, one of the main challenges IAA managers face is how to increase academic engagement to achieve IAA success. To increase engagement levels, it’s important to first understand the elements required to promote any type of behaviour-change, then we can implement specific initiatives designed to address these key areas.

We outline the critical elements required to promote and maintain new behaviours and a set of specific ideas for how to start addressing each of these areas in order to increase academic engagement to achieve IAA success.

There are 3 key elements required to support any type of behaviour change:

Behaviour Change infographic showing the 3 elements of behaviour change - motivation, capacity and skills.

Motivation:  there must be a reason for the person to make the change.

Capacity: the time and resources to engage in the behaviour must be available.

Skills: individuals must have the competencies required to be successful.

It’s unlikely that sustained behaviour-change will happen if any of these elements are missing. Therefore, understanding these elements and identifying ways to strengthen them is essential to increasing engagement levels.

Motivation to Engage

Motivation drives engagement. However, if there isn’t a strong “why” that is consistent with the researcher’s career and life goals, they simply won’t engage. This is entirely rational and reasonable. Why should they engage in an activity that doesn’t align with their goals? First we must fully understand what researchers want, and then communicate clearly how engaging in IAA will help them achieve their goals. In short, we need to be more explicit about connecting the dots for researchers.

Strategies for Addressing Motivation: ​

  • Showcase Impact Stories and highlight the successes of peers who have leveraged IAA funding to make significant impact. Real-world examples will help to motivate and inspire action. 
  • Align with Personal and Professional Goals to demonstrate how IAA engagement links directly to achieving their goals. Part of the challenge here is that every researcher is different, so there isn’t a one-size fits all narrative. We need to have a range of stories and narratives that connect with the ambitions of a wide range of different researchers.  
  • Create a Rewarding Environment with incentives that recognise and celebrate contributions. There are limitations in what types of rewards can be offered (i.e. financial, etc.), but there are many different ways to celebrate and reward behaviour. We should be actively developing and implementing strategies for rewarding engagement in IAA activity.  

Capacity to Engage

For researchers to actively participate in IAA, they need adequate resources. Most likely theyre already working at full capacity, so where does the extra capacity come from?  There are a few different ways to think abou this. First, are there opportunities to provide researchers with resources? Second, how might we reduce the resource requirement for researchers? Third, we should be considering whether this is actually a capacity issue or a priorities issue?  

Strategies for Addressing Capacity: ​

  • Understand the Capacity Issues and needs. It’s easy to make assumptions, but it is extremely insightful to spend time with researchers to dig deeper into understanding the specific capacity issues. Only then can we start to address them.  
  • Streamline Administrative Processes to reduce bureaucratic hurdles that may deter researchers from engaging with the programme. By simplifying processes as much as possible, we can ensure the programme is user-friendly.  
  • Promote Institutional Support in order to garner strong backing from university leadership, emphasising the strategic importance of the IAA and the need to increase academic engagement to achieve IAA success. Encourage faculties to prioritise and support researchers’ involvement.  This strategy is likely to be the hardest, but it also offers the greatest potential impact. Capacity issues are usually priority issues in disguise.  

Skills to Engage 

It’s important that researchers have the skills required to successfully engage with the IAA. Many researchers may not have had the opportunity to develop the necessary skills or lack confidence in their abilities. The skills could include project management, commercial awareness, stakeholder engagement, and navigating the institutional systems associated with translating research into impact.   

Strategies for Developing Skills: ​

  • Teach to the Test by offering skills development opportunities that align specifically with the IAA programme. Instead of offering generic “stakeholder engagement” training, why not offer “Stakeholder Engagement for Developing Your IAA-Funded Proposal”. Align the skills development opportunity with the desired outputs.  
  • Mentorship and Peer Learning through facilitating mentoring programmes that pair less experienced researchers with colleagues who have successfully engaged with the IAA. This peer learning can encourage knowledge sharing and collaboration.  
  • Build a Purposeful Skills-Development Funnel. If the goal is to generate more high-quality IAA-funded projects, then we should be designing and delivering a coordinated skills-development funnel that supports researchers on their journey from being unaware of the opportunity to having the skills and confidence to develop and deliver successful project. This needs to be purposeful in its design taking into consideration different researcher profiles.  

What this means in practice​?​

Every university, faculty and researcher is different, therefore any solution must be tailored to the unique situation. However, using this framework and viewing motivation, capacity and skills as the fundamental pre-requisites for any sustained behaviour can help us better understand the challenge and then develop targeted and strategic interventions that address the root causes of lower than desired engagement.

For instance, if the main issue is linked to motivation, delivering just skills development programmes won’t lead to meaningful behaviour-change.

If the main issue is capacity, then we need to provide additional resources or help them develop ways of working that allow them to pursue these opportunities within the constraints of their available resources.

If the issues, are skills, then we focus specifically on the most critical skills they need in relation to their opportunity. Skills development must be developed purposefully and align with project objectives and needs.

By understanding the key elements of motivation, capacity and skills, we’re equipped with a framework to identify root causes of low levels of engagement and implement initiatives that support meaningful behaviour change and drives significant increases in IAA engagement.

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