How research assessment reform can help research to do more! Reflections from the  SDG Publishers Compact Fellows, Open Climate Campaign, and Open Pharma

A DORAat10 Local Event Report

In May 2023, DORA celebrated it’s 10th Anniversary with two plenary sessions and a decentralized weeklong program of local events organized by community members from around the world. Event organizers were given the option to write brief reports on their events that summarize key takeaways and recommendations.

By Gerald Beasley, Sally Wilson, Jo Wixon, Rebecca Kirk, Victoria Gardner (HESI SDG Publishers Compact Fellows); Shane Rydquist (Cactus); Monica Granados (Open Climate Campaign); Tim Koder and Joana Osório (Open Pharma)

Since its inception, the Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA) has made great progress in stimulating discourse and driving change around academic reward and incentives structures, moving away from a focus on the journal Impact Factor as a proxy for the quality or impact of research to a broader concept of the impact of scholarly outputs of research. The Declaration has attracted a huge number of signatories over the past ten years and provides them with a forum to share ideas and best practice, and to work collaboratively to foster change. 

In the same spirit, the HESI SDG Publishers Compact Fellows formed a collaboration and convened an event in partnership with the Open Climate Campaign and Open Pharma to provide advice and guidance to researchers on writing for non-academic audiences. Our focus was on highlighting why writing for non-academic audiences is vitally important to drive progress towards the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, and aligned with the aims of DORA in terms of improving the ways in which the outputs of scholarly research are evaluated. We agree on the need to move beyond the current academic focus of impact to a greater understanding and recognition of the impact that research can have on the broader world. We all believe that research can help us solve the challenges that we are dealing with globally. The mindset change that is is at the heart of DORA is essential as we collectively work to solve these challenges – be that good health and well being, climate change, food security, inequality, or any of those reflected in the Sustainable Development Goals and more widely. 

Our event on May 17 was titled: How to write for non-academic audiences to achieve progress towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We defined non-academic audiences as any reader who does not share the specific academic knowledge of the research output. This includes the general public, practitioners, patients, advocacy organisations, and policy or decision makers. During the session, our roster of speakers and facilitators provided institutional, industry, advocacy, and publishing perspectives on how to help research do more to reach non-academic readers and users. For example, writing plain language summaries or succinct practitioner or policy action points. We covered why writing for these audiences is important, how it can help widen the reach and impact of research, and outlined some practical tools and tips to support the writing process, including Top Tips created by the HESI SDG Publishers Compact Fellows. Participants had the opportunity to try some writing of their own, based on a worked example, which gave them the chance to put some of the tips and guidance of the session into practice. We had high levels of engagement from our audience throughout the event, who shared their thoughts and experiences with the group. The slides and handout with links to related resources can be found on the SDG Publishers Compact Fellows website.

The organisers didn’t just convene the event, but learnt a lot from our audience members, who were generous and candid with sharing their thoughts and experiences, including barriers to communicating in this way for these audiences. 

The convenors came away from the session with ideas on future events (including a possible debate on the role of AI in supporting with writing these formats), and with a clear sense of the challenges around writing for non-academic audiences. Ensuring that rewards and incentives structures, alongside training and support, are in place to support researchers in this endeavour is one challenge. Many attendees noted that while they were keen to communicate with wider audiences, current incentives structures do not encourage them to devote time and energy to writing these kinds of outputs. DORA is playing a vital role in addressing this and there is lots more that can be done. 

We are keen to accelerate change and help research to realise its possible real world impact. We plan further collaboration across our groups and DORA as we develop practical solutions to support broader forms of impact and engagement, including writing for non-academic audiences to drive progress towards the SDGs. Keen to find out more and to support our goals?  Join the SDG Publishers Compact Fellows Group Virtual Community for news about  activities and future events and to take part in our work to support the aims of DORA and drive progress towards the SDGs!

Haley Hazlett
Dr. Haley Hazlett has been DORA's Program Manager since 2021. She was a DORA Policy Intern before taking the role of Program Manager. She obtained her Ph.D. in Microbiology and Immunology in 2021 and is passionate about improving research culture for all researchers.

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