Driving institutional change for research assessment reform

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On October 21–23, 2019, the San Francisco Declaration for Research Assessment (DORA) and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute convened funders, university administrators, faculty members, early career researchers, librarians, culture change experts, scientific society staff, and representatives from other nonprofit initiatives to consider how to improve research assessment policies and practices.

Participants heard from a panel that highlighted innovative research assessment practices for hiring, promotion, and tenure. Needhi Bhalla explained how her department at the University of California, Santa Cruz, includes untenured faculty in its departmental tenure decisions as a way to increase transparency and consistency. Another strategy for faculty searches that Omar Quintero pointed out was to de-identify candidates at specific points in the search to encourage evaluators to focus on the desired qualities for the position rather than on personal favorites. And to promote balanced discussions during hiring deliberations, the Charité Universitätsmedizin Berlin includes an independent staff member who participates without a vote.

For true culture change in research assessment, stakeholders will need to work together. To get started, human design expert Ruth Schmidt suggested dissecting similar, successful culture change movements to understand what resonates with their approach. The Center for Open Science has launched a bottom-up strategy to increase the adoption of open practices. “Make it possible, make it easy, make it normative, make it rewarding, make it required.” Understanding the ecosystem can identify leverage points for change too. Lou Woodley from the Center for Scientific Collaboration and Community Engagement explained that systems thinking can be used to determine what assumptions and beliefs are keeping traditional models of research assessment in place. It can also identify underlying structures and patterns that are barriers to change.

DORA is currently developing resources based on what we learned from the meeting to help departments and institutions review and revise their own research assessment policies and practices. But new policies will only change research assessment culture if they are adopted by the community, so DORA is also working to identify community engagement strategies that encourage implementation.

Recordings of the webcast, additional resources, and information about the meeting are on the DORA website (see https://sfdora.org/assessingresearch).

About the Author:


Anna Hatch is the DORA Community Manager. She earned a PhD in biochemistry from Dartmouth College.