The question is often asked what is meant by an "enabling environment for emerging researchers"” Many suggestions are offered as answers but in my opinion, we need to look at it from different perspectives.
Firstly, an "enabling environment” needs to be contextualised and secondly, the position of the emerging researcher next to that of the mid-career and established researcher must be determined. Thirdly, the contribution of the university must be understood.
An Enabling Research Environment
I often battle with the question of whether it is the researcher who contributes to this environment, or the environment that supports the researcher" I don't think there is a final answer to this simply because all universities need researchers regardless of their stage of research activity, output or impact, in order to build a research environment. This approach guarantees the sustainability of the research environment. But without infrastructure, human and financial resources and supportive systems, there is no way that researchers can deliver on their research assignment. This leads to the conclusion that an enabling environment is one that is well-resourced and supported by the ongoing participation of researchers to develop and sustain it.
To me, the enabling research environment is one where researchers jointly take on the responsibility to grow the existing platform for research. This platform will then also include aspects such as a growing knowledge base; a culture of innovation; and an ethos of developing what is already available in the university. In essence, it means that it is a culture of joint responsibility. This "response-ability” (ability to respond to the demands of the research society) refers to what I call the "H to the power three approach: heart, head and hand”. To create an enabling environment, one requires commitment, the heart, to be a contributor and not just a consumer of the research environment. Next to the heart, knowledge, skills, competencies and abilities are required to build the environment.
To put the commitment (heart) to work, the hand is required. The hand symbolises that researchers are people practicing a particular craft and that this craft can only come to life if there is action. Here the well-known slogan applies: don't tell me, show me.
Such an approach has specific meaning for the emerging researchers. Firstly, all researchers, including emerging researchers, have the responsibility to build a research culture. Secondly, researchers, especially in the category of established researchers, should act as mentors for emerging researchers. Established researchers should support the emerging researchers in their own development en route to the next level of participation and output. Finallly, emerging researchers should realise that the emphasis is on performing research and that emerging is simply the adjective to identify the level of research readiness and participation.
It is common practice internationally to identify three categories for research readiness and participation, i.e. emerging/novice researchers; mid-career researchers; and established researchers. To me, the important part is not what kind of categories or how many categories but rather what activities are associated with these categories. Typical activities for research participation and productivity include study towards highest qualification in field of study; participation in research training; publication writing; conference presentations; postgraduate supervision; research grants; professional research engagement (editorial boards, review panels, assessment panels, etc.); and transfer and innovation.
Ideally, research participation and productivity should increase as researchers improve their research training and experience. Emerging researchers should preferably engage in activities to master the research assignment; mid-career researchers should participate in research training and publication writing beyond their formal studies; while established researchers should engage in all activities associated with research participation and productivity. The idea of these categories or suggested activities is not to limit research participation but rather to benchmark research development and performance.
In research management, I have learned that structure follows strategy. It could be that different universities, depending on their institutional research profile, may follow different strategies to accomplish their research plans. It may even be that they require different structures to support these strategies. Through the years, as researcher and research manager, I have found that four strategies are required to successfully develop researchers and the research environment:
1. Intellectual activities to stimulate knowledge growth.
2. Well formulated and communicated policies to regulate the development and management of research.
3. Resource development and allocations to secure that people, infrastructure and finances are available to support research.
4. Innovative structures to assist with the management and administration of research.
The meaning of these strategies can be explained as follows:
These research strategies should be captured in a research plan that is then managed on the basis of inputs and processes (contributions to the research activity), outcomes and outputs (spin-offs as a result of the inputs and processes) and impact (did the research results change/improve society, practice, behaviour, etc. and did it lead to new government policies in support of national developmental objectives").
The perspectives that I would like to stress are that emerging researchers should be afforded the opportunity to grow their research expertise but at the same time also take on the responsibility of contributing to an enabling research environment. In addition, the university (as a system) and mid-career and established researchers (as participants in a research system) should form a network in support of the emerging researchers.