A year in the life of Research Consulting

By Rob Johnson, 7 May 2019

The last 12 months have been an exciting time here at Research Consulting HQ. Our team has grown, with the appointment of a new Director, Dr Dan King, one year ago, and two new researchers, Lucia Loffreda and Emma Richens, joining us in autumn 2018. This has enabled us to take on a wider range of projects than ever before, working with almost 50 clients and engaging with stakeholders in 30 different countries within the last year alone.

Back in April 2018 Research Consulting turned five, and to celebrate we looked back on what we had been doing over our first half-decade. Fast-forward another twelve months, and we’ve now completed almost 120 projects for around 100 different clients, with 2018/19 our busiest year yet. Here’s what we’ve been up to…

Where we are making a difference

Countries where Research Consulting’s work is making a difference

One of the most exciting developments over the last year has been our increased geographical reach. In addition to our work for clients across the UK, Europe and in North America, highlights of the last year have included benchmarking research contracts management in Australia, reviewing the national research funder in Hong Kong (report forthcoming), and undertaking a scoping study on technology transfer in Malaysia. On a broader scale, we’ve also been helping the British Council to explore University-University links between the UK and 12 Asian countries, and are working with the UK Department for International Development (DFID) on research capacity strengthening in seven Sub-Saharan African countries. Research is global and interconnected by nature, and this has been very much apparent in the breadth of our interactions in 2018 and 2019.

Who we’ve been helping

The organisations who have asked us to support and advise them in the last year include public, private and not-for-profit entities operating in all parts of the research environment (see graphic below). It’s been great to see how many of our past clients keep coming back to us (sometimes many years later!), but also how many are finding us for the first time, whether through word of mouth or a simple web search.

As befits a mission-driven organisation, much of our work in the last year has been with not-for-profits, membership associations and public bodies. Examples include EPSRC, Universities UK, Jisc, PraxisAuril, the British Council, SPARC Europe and the International Association of STM Publishers. This work typically involves shaping policy, evaluating outcomes, informing future strategies and demonstrating the value these organisations contribute to the research landscape. Most of the outputs are public, and many examples can be found on the ‘Resources‘ pages of our website.

What tends to be less apparent is the range of projects we undertake for individual universities and publishers. This work is often confidential in nature, and involves helping organisations identify market opportunities, understand stakeholder needs, develop strategy, and enhance business processes.

The last year has seen us help world-leading universities develop their research strategies and improve their approaches to research information management and performance reporting, as well as assisting newer institutions to develop their approaches to knowledge exchange and research contracting. These interactions bring us into contact with a wide range of institutional support functions (including research offices, libraries, finance, IT, planning and HR), as well as institutional leaders and the academic community. Whether it’s reviewing a research finance function, developing new business models for digital research facilities, or working out how institutions can collaborate better locally, regionally or internationally, there’s someone on our team who can help!

Meanwhile we’ve also been assisting a growing number of publishers and software companies in navigating the changing scholarly communications landscape. Some of this work has involved helping organisations to understand and capitalise upon the move to open science, but in other cases we’ve been assisting publishers and software companies with better understanding researchers’ needs, and exploring new market opportunities within a post-subscriptions era.

How we do it

Our work is founded on our in-depth knowledge of the research landscape, and each project is unique. Common elements include interviews and literature reviews, but increasingly we’re combining these with data analytics, financial modelling, infographics and other techniques to deliver the insights our clients are seeking. Some of our work has been big-picture in nature, looking at the trends that are shaping the research landscape of the future, but we’re also not afraid to get our hands dirty, understanding and redesigning the business processes that support research at the sharp end.

At the end of the day, though, no methodology or approach is a substitute for simply having good people who are committed to making a difference. Here we are fortunate to have a fantastic team of staff members and associates who not only offer a huge breadth of expertise and experience, but are a pleasure to work with, too!

What else we’ve been up to

Alongside our work for our clients, we aim to make a wider contribution the communities we serve. Over this last year members of our team have volunteered on the planning committees for the INORMS and Researcher-to-Reader conferences, served on the Summit Group of the Open Scholarship Initiative, and spoken at numerous events and conferences, including PraxisAuril, the Independent Publishers Guild, UKSG, the Russell Group Research Directors, London Higher and many more. We’ve also authored articles and blog posts (too many to list!), and contributed to the community consultation on Plan S. Wherever possible we make the outputs of our work freely available to others to re-use on our website, and within our Zenodo community.

What comes next?

The nature of consultancy means that much of what will come in the next 12 months is unpredictable. Next month will see our industry engagement benchmarking exercise get underway (still open to new entrants if you’re quick!) and many of our existing projects run through to the summer and beyond. We’ll also be represented at a number of upcoming conferences, including ARMA, PraxisAuril and Open Repositories in June, and ALPSP, COASP and FORCE 11 2019 this autumn. Beyond that it’s anyone’s guess what we’ll be up to!

However, we’re confident that there will continue to be a need for trusted, independent advice on research and scholarly communication. So whether’s it coping with Brexit or the Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF) in the UK, Plan S or Horizon Europe on the continent, or the Sustainable Development Goals and the shift to Open Science at a global level, we’ll be here to help. If you’d like to hear more about what we can offer, feel free to get in touch.