Helen Young (REF Manager) with Siân Ringrose and Lisa Idebolo (Research Policy Officers)

Every year a small group from Research and Innovation Services head off to the ARMA annual conference (ARMA being the Association for Research Managers and Administrators). This year, the conference was held on the banks of the Mersey in Liverpool and although the weather was far from bright, the welcome was extremely warm. With over 700 delegates attending this year’s conference and a mix of workshops and plenary sessions to engage in (not to mention a gala dinner and commercial exhibition to enjoy – see us in our finery below), there were lots of opportunities to network and share ideas and issues with peers from across the UK (See John’s post this week on foxhunting). It was also a welcome chance to get to know each other a bit better.

#StirARMA17 ladies ready for the Conference dinner & awards

For me, as newly appointed REF Manager for Stirling, the conference was a a godsend, allowing me to connect with REF colleagues and get in on their conversations. Having recently contributed to an ARMA REF workshop and developed plans for a new Special Interest Group (SIG) with my counterpart at York, it also provided the perfect forum for discussion. Thanks to the wonders of Twitter, we were able to arrange an informal meeting on Tuesday lunchtime to gauge interest in the SIG, discuss its purpose and agree next steps. The value of such face-to-face contact cannot be underestimated, with a degree of candour and comradery rarely experienced via email.

For my colleagues, it was workshops that really hit home as Siân recounts below…

‘Impact and innovation are two of the big buzz words currently, with researcher’s needing to evidence the impact of their work and the UK’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy keen to see more translation of academic findings into practical industry use.  Therefore the sessions on engagement and catalysing innovation within Universities were of particular interest. ‘Engaging me, Engaging you’ saw the creative juices flow, with tables tasked with the creation of mood boards for pre-determined briefs.  This alternative approach to working was a fun way in which to help people think outside the box in terms of how to target specific audience groups and make an event attractive.  Coming a close second our table’s poster lost out on the slot of first prize, but the mood was definitely more about the taking part than the winning!

One particularly interesting aspect of the conference for me was the session on catalysing innovation within academic institutions and the role of entrepreneurial training.  With a case study in Tanzania, the approach taken by the Nelson Mandela Institute of Science and Technology in postgraduate training was markedly different to training programmes in the EU.  Entrepreneurial training courses and business awareness is a mandatory requirement of their Master’s and Postgraduate studies.  Culturally, education within Tanzania is focused more on the roles rather than the individual.  Careers are discussed in terms of what different roles can achieve rather than individual stages of career progression.’

And for Lisa, recently returned from maternity leave, it was a chance to catch-up on the changes and challenges of the last year…

‘Having been a member of ARMA for a number of years, it was interesting to hear the changes that have been made to the organisation, including implementing the feedback of members with regard to providing more free and regional events and improving their online resources.

Two particular session highlights for me were: ‘It’s Good to Talk’ regarding internal communication methods between research support staff and academic colleagues. This session involved an in-depth internal survey by the University of Aberdeen, which provided lots of useful insight into improving internal communications. Attendees were surveyed through our mobile devices and followed by opportunities to network with the room and discuss best methods of internal communication, from eZines to Twitter to good old fashioned face-to-face meetings! The take-home message was essentially that a variety of internal communication methods work best in order to maintain interest and depending on the content of the communication.

The other session highlight was ‘Showcasing the Research Leader’s Impact Toolkit’, which has been developed by the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education. The session saw the launch of a free toolkit for Research Managers to explore how it may support their work, illustrating the benefits of an institutionally-embedded approach to impact. We learnt that the toolkit could be used to aid the development of a Research Impact Strategy, impact training or an impact capture system. There was also much discussion around the communication of research to increase impact, through use of the correct language, in line with issues of current public interest to increase momentum and reach of research outcomes.’

So all in all the conference was a worthwhile and enjoyable event for newbies and old-hands alike. Thanks to our ARMA conference organisers for a very valuable experience.