Here are Cruxes Innovation’s responses to the Department of Education’s Review of the ARC Consultation Paper questions, submitted 13 December, 2022.
Q1. ARC scope & purpose: How could the purpose in the ARC Act be revised to reflect the current and future role of the ARC?
For example, should the ARC Act be amended to specify in legislation:
a. the scope of research funding supported by the ARC;
b. the balance of Discovery and Linkage research programs;
c. the role of the ARC in actively shaping the research landscape in Australia; and/or
d. any other functions?
If so, what scope, functions and role?
If not, please suggest alternative ways to clarify and define these functions.
Cruxes: The ARC performs a critical role in the Australian research innovation system, in its primary role as a provider of funding for fundamental and discovery research, but also as a broader contributor to the research ecosystem in roles beyond the statements in the ARC Act.
To achieve its purpose to "grow knowledge and innovation for the benefit of the Australian community,” we would like to see the ARC expand its role even further to become an active enabler and accelerator of research and research impact as well as a funder and assessor. The ARC’s recently-announced Industry Fellowships program is a great start. We believe that for research impact to be unleashed, researchers must become “ambidextrous,” able to aim their skills towards both discovery (Discovery stream, traditional Fellowships) and translation (Linkage, Industry Fellowships). This development does not happen overnight: it needs sustained support, reinforcement, and structural changes. Rather than waiting for universities and researchers to do this organically, the ARC could play a role in accelerating this expansion. This could include:
Developing a team of research impact experts to support universities to design ARC-funded research projects to achieve maximum impact, to monitor and evaluate that impact over the long term, and to implement structural changes to support impact. This could include promoting the prestige of the Industry Fellowships program to be equivalent to the traditional Fellowships. Ideally the ARC would also provide additional funding to universities to carry out this impact monitoring and evaluation of their ARC-funded projects.
Providing resources to equip researchers themselves to develop the “ambidextrous” skills mentioned above, including skills to plan their ARC-funded projects for impact, and to evaluate and monitor this impact. This could be achieved by the ARC running an “Impact Academy” to which all researchers applying for ARC funding have access. This idea builds on the proposal from Science and Technology Australia (STA), of which Cruxes is a proud member, for the ARC to help researchers acquire science communication skills. Just as STA would be an ideal partner to deliver this training, Cruxes would be an ideal partner to deliver the broader “Impact Academy.”
Supporting ARC-funded researchers to build connections into subsequent funding schemes, from the ARC and elsewhere. The submission from Cooperative Research Australia (CRA), of which Cruxes is also a proud member, gives an example of a research group who have developed their research to create significant impact by evolving from an ARC Discovery-funded project to an ARC ITTC to the Department of Industry’s CRC program.
From its review of a broad range of funding applications, the ARC has a rich database of information about innovation activities, capabilities, and priorities, in research and in industry. As part of its role as an innovation enabler, the ARC might use insights from analysis of this data to assist in connecting researchers who are working on similar problems, to encourage more cross-disciplinary research collaboration. It might also play a role in connecting researchers with industry players who need their capabilities, and potentially also in incentivising more industry-industry collaboration through university-driven research initiatives.
In summary, Cruxes recommends that the ARC’s role is expanded so that it becomes an active enabler and accelerator of research and research impact as well as a funder and assessor, by running an “Impact Academy,” to which all researchers and universities applying for ARC funding have access. The Impact Academy would offer:
Support and funding for universities to design ARC-funded research projects to achieve maximum impact, to monitor and evaluate that impact over the long term, and to implement structural changes to support impact.
Training for researchers to plan their ARC-funded projects for impact, to drive these projects towards impact, and to evaluate and monitor this impact.
Support for researchers to connect with other researchers working on similar problems, to encourage more cross-disciplinary research collaboration, and with industry players who need these capabilities.
Support for ARC-funded researchers to build connections into subsequent funding schemes, from the ARC and elsewhere.
Q2. Governance and management: Do you consider the current ARC governance model is adequate for the ARC to perform its functions?
If not, how could governance of the ARC be improved? For example, should the ARC Act be amended to incorporate a new governance model that establishes a Board on the model outlined in the consultation paper, or another model;
Please expand on your reasoning and/or provide alternative suggestions to enhance the governance, if you consider this to be important.
Q3. Academic excellence and peer review: How could the Act be improved to ensure academic and research expertise is obtained and maintained to support the ARC?
How could this be done without the Act becoming overly prescriptive?
Q4. Grant approval: Should the ARC Act be amended to consolidate the pre-eminence or importance of peer review?
Please provide any specific suggestions you may have for amendment of the Act, and/or for non-legislative measures.
Q5. National interest test: Please provide suggestions on how the ARC, researchers and universities can better preserve and strengthen the social license for public funding of research?
Cruxes: Cruxes supports STA's recommendations on this subject. In addition, we believe there’s an opportunity for the ARC to encourage researchers to focus more on communicating the value of their research to the broader community. This is critical to maintaining the social capital of Australian research. We recommend that all ARC applications require a national impact statement (rather than national interest test) which is a succinct and accessible statement about the impact potential of the proposed research, including evidence for this impact potential from engagement by the applicants with the target research end-users and other stakeholders. To deliver this, researchers must be equipped with the skills to engage their project’s stakeholders and uncover the needs of these stakeholders to which their proposed research could contribute to solving. We believe that even discovery and fundamental research funding programs need to explicitly require research projects to include translation or knowledge exchange, and to monitor its success. We note that in some cases, the stakeholders for fundamental research are applied researchers. We also note the vital role that the humanities, arts, and social science research disciplines, with their focus on human behaviour, make to research translation. It is critical that the value of these disciplines is recognised in the ARC’s policy.
Q6. Admin burden: What elements of ARC processes or practices create administrative burdens and/or duplication of effort for researchers, research offices and research partners?
Q7. Process improvements: What improvements could be made:
a. to ARC processes to promote excellence, improve agility, and better facilitate globally collaborative research and partnerships while maintaining rigour, excellence and peer review at an international standard?
b. to the ARC Act to give effect to these process improvements, or do you suggest other means?
Please include examples of success or best practice from other countries or communities if you have direct experience of these.
Q8. With respect to ERA and EI:
a. Do you believe there is a need for a highly rigorous, retrospective excellence and impact assessment exercise, particularly in the absence of a link to funding?
b. What other evaluation measures or approaches (e.g. data driven approaches) could be deployed to inform research standards and future academic capability that are relevant to all disciplines, without increasing the administrative burden?
c. Should the ARC Act be amended to reference a research quality, engagement and impact assessment function, however conducted?
d. If so, should that reference include the function of developing new methods in research assessment and keeping up with best practice and global insights?
Cruxes: We believe that, in order to maximise the impact of the research funded by the ARC, there is a need for impact monitoring and evaluation. We recognise that impact monitoring is not straightforward, and we suggest that the means for monitoring the impact of a project must be matched to the impact objectives of that project. More broadly, if one of the goals of research impact monitoring is to retain or enhance social license to operate (SLO) for research, then perhaps impact monitoring needs to be linked to activities that make a significant difference to SLO. Also, for impact monitoring and evaluation to generate long-term value, we recommend that it not only be retrospective, but also used to guide future research. For example, the ARC might require applicants for ARC finding to demonstrate the influence that evaluation of the impact of their previous projects has had on their current application.
Q9. Evaluation capability: With respect to the ARC’s capability to evaluate research excellence and impact:
a. how can the ARC best use its expertise and capability in evaluating the outcomes and benefits of research to demonstrate the ongoing value and excellence of Australian research in different disciplines and/or in response to perceived problems?
b. what elements would be important so that such a capability could inform potential collaborators and end-users, share best practice, and identify national gaps and opportunities?
c. would a data-driven methodology assist in fulfilling this purpose?
Cruxes: See our response to Q1.
Q10. Other: Having regard to the Review’s Terms of Reference, the ARC Act itself, the function, structure and operation of the ARC, and the current and potential role of the ARC in fostering excellent Australian research of global significance, do you have any other comments or suggestions?
Cruxes: We believe that the impact of Australian research is far from its potential today because neither universities nor industry see the other as essential partners. We see potential for the ARC to contribute significantly to the creation of “success stories” that demonstrate significant value in university-industry research collaboration for both parties and change this culture. In addition to the recommendations made above, we recommend that the ARC makes the following changes to achieve this.
To create more impact success stories from ARC Centres of Excellence, and address researcher impact capability and capacity gaps, we recommend that ARC CoE funding includes funding earmarked for:
Structured training, coaching, and mentoring programs to develop impact-hungry researchers’ industry engagement and market validation capabilities
A market-level salary for a senior business development person with domain experience and networks to assist impact-hungry researchers to connect with potential industry impact partners and validate the impact potential of their research (because university BD people are overworked and usually not domain specialists)
Provisional patent applications for high-impact-potential IP (because most university IP protection budgets are minimal)
Impact proof-of-concept projects, including salary support to second CoE researchers to work full-time for a few months on the PoC project and undertake the capability development programs.
We also recommend that the ARC enable researchers who have research outcomes with commercial potential to apply for funding while they wait for their university to progress IP protection decisions and execution. It is very important that researchers remain globally competitive as discovery researchers while they pursue research impact. For example, the ARC might enable funding applicants to select an “assessor do not disclose” option on their funding applications. This approach would have the additional benefit of identifying universities who have limited resources to progress IP protection, and creating an opportunity for the ARC to help these universities address this, perhaps as an extension of the “Impact Academy” mentioned in our response to Q1.