FAQ Public Engagement
Tough questions, honest answers
On this page you will find a collection of frequently asked questions about Recognition and Rewards. This track within the Open Science Programme and the Recognition and Rewards vision of Utrecht university understandably raise many questions. The most frequently asked questions have been collected below, and the answer is as clear and honest as possible.
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Not necessarily. Although we are changing the system of recognition and rewards, university funding will not increase overnight, and there will still be competition for permanent positions. Modernizing the system requires cultural change in which we reevaluate the composition of university staff and what we value as a meaningful career. One of the most noticeable differences will be that future requirements will be open and transparent, and competition will be based on more than just an individual’s research output. This will reshape and vitalize career paths making them more diverse, creating possibilities to change course during one’s career. Just like today, in the future there will be many that work at the university and then move on to another sector, those who pursue an academic career will no longer face an ‘up or out’ system: not a job but a career for life.
Quite the contrary, we explicitly aim to include all university employees in this transition. To be fair, academics were the starting point of this discussion but we have quickly come to realize that a transition like this will not be a success without the involvement of the broader academic community. This means including non-academic colleagues.
One of the aims of the Utrecht Open Science Programme is to reduce the distinction between academic and support staff in a meaningful way. Many examples come to mind of non-academic staff playing vital roles in our education and research, just as academic staff perform duties that not directly related to research and education. In a new system we aim to recognize these facts and accommodate diversity within teams. The manner in which we will do this is subject of our current discussions.
To demote someone means to relieve someone of her/his function or can mean a reduction of one’s duties. In the context of the current discussion it is often used to bring up the topic of the division of responsibilities within teams, such as being the principal investigator, chairing committees or other functions. When a person is relieved of such duties this would be called demotion.
In our current system academic titles usually come with a number of corresponding responsibilities – as a default – and there is little room to consider the individual strengths and weaknesses of the one who bears the title. When team science is the default, and an open conversation on the division of responsibilities becomes more common, we create more opportunities to bring the individual talents of employees to fruition. By putting the common goals first and being critical on each other’s strengths and weaknesses, we can reevaluate the division of tasks in a more effective manner. This can relate to matters of leadership, but also to the roles team members fulfill in education, public engagement and research.
Not in itself but by shifting the primary focus of the current system away from the overly one-sides emphasis on traditional, quantifiable output indicators we do aim to reduce one of the main causes for heavy workload. By shifting attention to other key domains such as education, public engagement and professional performance, we aim to more equally divide attention over the key areas that already define academic life. The aim is to come to a more fair and transparent system that takes into account and rewards the hard work already being done.
A new system of recognition and rewards is not aimed at maximalization of output in all key areas. It is meant to end the practice of expecting outstanding individual performance on all domains – whilst only judging individuals on their research output – and allow for different profiles based on the common goals of a team. Judging employees on the quality of their work instead of quantity. Leadership will play a vital role in this transition and their support and council can be an important resource in dealing with a heavy work load. We expect this new system to change things for the better, but it is no panacea to heavy work load.
The feeling that one should be compensated for tasks such as supervision might find its origins in the fact that in the current system research is often the primary (and only) field of output that holds any rewards, financial or personal. Other activities that are a ‘service to academia’ therefore become a diversion, standing in the way of (individual) progress. Even though many would agree that these tasks are an essential part of keeping the academy afloat, individuals nor teams are actually rewarded spending time or effort on them.
This needs to change, and in order to do this the range of activities that are considered in one’s job performance needs to grow and the priorities need to be drastically altered. And make no mistake, this does not imply an increase in the work load. It would rather be the starting point of a conversation on what not to do in the future. Ending the one sided emphasis on research performance means less time spent on endlessly submitting papers to high impact journals and writing less research grants that have a low probability of being granted. The team outcome takes primacy and individual performance is judged as a part of that.
At first glance this seems to be a conceivable threat, but the fear is unjustified. In all fairness we have to conclude that current indicators for scientific merit favor fundamental research. Every step towards applied sciences is a step away from an academic career as a researcher. If we want to deliver on our promise to society, we have to give up on the inward focus in assessment and allow ourselves to be held accountable by society.
What this means is that research performed in cooperation with external parties, or with a specific goal-oriented approach will increasingly receive the recognition it deserves. As part of the open science approach to doing research the criteria will be adapted and extended to take into account a multitude of approaches. It should be clear that this doesn’t alter the fact that one can still find a career in more fundamental research, it will simply no longer be the highest attainable level or even the only path to success.
To go short the answer is a resounding ‘yes’. As a rule the evaluation of programmes, teams and individuals will have to move away from the use of the prevailing (biblio)metrics. As we now know, aggregated measures such as the h-index and the IF provide – at best - a poor measure for (individual) performance. Used in isolation they are a poor and fundamentally skewed reflection of scientific quality. By signing the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment the UU formally distanced itself from the use of flawed metrics.
However, this does not mean that scientific publications suddenly lose all value. It also does not exclude the use of all quantitive measures for performance. But instead of using a limited set of flawed indicators, we will put qualitative measures, narrative and strategy first (for example in the new Strategic Evaluation Protocol). However, such metrics should only be used to illustrate, complement or enrich this approach.
So does that mean we don’t have any quantitative indicators anymore?
Quantitative indicators will not be eliminated entirely, but they must be meaningful (as must the qualitative indicators). For example, simply giving two interviews per year in national newspapers is not necessarily an indicator of impact, nor is it necessarily intelligent to aim for some other number. The main priority is to set a shared goal. Quantitative or qualitative indicators can then be used to determine in retrospect whether that goal has been achieved. No more, and no less.
It’s not possible to answer that with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no. Disciplines differ considerably in the time individuals spend on research, education and the many organizational aspects that go with it. In some fields there is a true struggle for more ‘research time’ while in others teaching is only a minor part of one’s repertoire. On the whole we want to break with the sole emphasis on research output as a gauge for performance and allow space for a plurality of domains on which one can be assessed.
At its core the new system of recognition and rewards should align the mission and strategy of the organization with the ambitions of the individual employee. The individual contribution and performance should be weighed in the light of a fair and integral overview of their aims, tasks and responsibilities of a team. This will allow for different profiles and the recognition of an individual’s abilities and performance. To some this will mean a reduction in time spent on research, but for others this might increase. And although this will not preclude tensions between individual and collective interests, it will at least be possible to have an open and fair discussion.
In 2019 the Dutch universities (VSNU), research funders (NWO, ZonMw), university medical centers (NFU) and the Royal Academy (KNAW) published a position paper on recognition and rewards, kicking off a national transition. Although bound to a set of common principles universities have a lot of autonomy in how to put these ideals into practice. On a national level universities keep each other updated through formal and informal channels and coordinate new requirements and incentives with funders. In this they are guided by feasibility, compliance with DORA and the rejection of flawed metrics.
To Utrecht University the point of departure is open science. This means that research and education can be improved on a qualitative level when science and society interact more. This interaction should be based on equality, transparency and mutual respect and accordingly the manner in which academics are rewarded should be more in tune with the common values. As to how we reshape this system there are no definitive answers yet. The (academic) community will explicitly be involved in shaping the future.
This is both a strategic and an idealistic question. Starting with the strategic part it is important to stress that the Netherlands is by no means acting alone on this topic. It can, however, be said that the Dutch research funders and institutes are frontrunners in the field of open science and recognition and rewards – which poses challenges indeed. But let’s also consider that initiatives such as Plan S, DORA and changes in the application procedures of international funders such as the ERC make for a changing international landscape as well We believe in setting the example and there are clear indicators that this strategy is working. Moreover, the frontrunner status can also put academics from the Netherlands at an advantage, and make Dutch academia more attractive to researchers from abroad.
As to the second aspect, this is indeed a very challenging transition, but the courage to take this (first) step is based on a thorough analysis of the problems that science currently faces, and a clear vision on what the future of academia should be. To maintain the status quo simply for the sake of minimizing risks will not get us there. It could be possible that our frontrunner attitudes puts some at a disadvantage, but fear might be a bigger obstacle than the transition itself.
The university is home to teams of all shapes and sizes. Some examples of formal teams include a chair group, a section or a department. Functional teams, where members of different formal teams come together, are common in education, such as joint learning tracks, courses or study programmes, as are research teams made up of multiple disciplines. But there are also many other ways employees can work towards a goal, and therefore form a team. In fact, there is a very good chance that you are a member of more than one team.
The principle behind the team approach is that we as colleagues are willing to help one another, pay attention to diversity, and are open to sharing our knowledge. In essence, it is the relationship that we enter into with one another, and the culture that characterises a department, examination committee or research team. Good team spirit results from the team coming together to achieve new goals, offer constructive criticism, and helping an individual’s performance contribute to the common goal. Within this context, there is also room for personal development and shared successes.
The short answer is ‘no’. That is due to the way impact is included in the UU TRIPLE model. This model is based on the three core domains of education, research and professional performance, from which impact is generated. Impact is therefore not a domain in and of itself, with its own funding and assignments, but rather an integral component of the primary processes performed by university employees.
The essence of the question therefore lies at a deeper layer. Utrecht University has made Open Science one of the principles for the new system of Recognition and Rewards. From that perspective, science and society should not be seen as separate worlds. Research and education must offer value for everyone, so the goals within these domains are broadly formulated. In the process, impact will become integrated into how we work. Collaborating with a primary school on education research, or consulting with a patients’ association will become as commonplace in research as attending an academic conference or writing a chapter in a textbook, rather than something tacked on to the side.
Recognition and rewards involve much more than just appointments and promotions. The new vision and the TRIPLE model will therefore apply to the entire HR policy cycle. This begins with recruitment and selection, but at its core everything revolves around development. The important thing is the dialogue that is conducted regarding shared objectives, the performance of the team, and the performance of its individual members. This will make issues such as supervision, socialisation, coordination and consultation integral elements of the system of recognition and rewards.
It will specifically apply to the type of evaluation or performance interviews employees have with their supervisors, and with the goals that research groups, teaching teams and departments set together. It will also apply to the ‘work design’ at the individual and collective levels, and emphasising personal growth, for example through supervision and training. By changing how we recognise and reward employees, we will increase their involvement in decision making and make room for more autonomy and self-management.
Awards and appointments are not inherently unsuitable rewards, but first we will focus on other types of rewards. If we acknowledge that education, research and professional performance all involve teamwork, then we’ll also have to apply that to new forms of recognition and rewards. Putting the desire to allow pluralism into practice will also involve expanding the palette of activities for which teams are rewarded.
Expanding to the current palette of individual and collective awards may seem like an appealing solution, but it may or may not achieve the underlying goal. Awards motivate only if they meet conditions such as exclusivity and scarcity, but the behaviour to be encouraged by the new Recognition and Rewards system involve aspects such as inclusion and changing ‘the norm’. If we wish to show appreciation or hold a team up as an example, it may be more useful to consult with the colleagues themselves. After all, a suitable reward depends greatly on the context: more autonomy in the next project, training in a different competency, or extra hands to help set up a learning track may serve as more effective displays of recognition than a certificate or a trophy.
It is true that several research financiers have added what they call the ‘narrative CV’ to their new policies. This is due in part to the realisation that someone who has published X-number of articles in periodicals with Journal Impact Factor Y may not be a suitable person for every research position, and that Journal Impact Factors and numbers of publications are not good indicators of social or scientific impact and quality.
The narrative CV is not about writing a good story; it refers to a CV in which the person provides a justification for the stated quality of the work, and how the person fits into a research project or position. A publication in a leading journal may be an indication of quality, but the journal’s impact factor is not sufficient justification for that assumption. Rather, we must consider whether the journal is read by everyone in the field, or if certain aspects of the academic work have been adopted by other researchers. The justification may also be that the person has made substantial contributions to important projects in the field of research. This could also be considered as a ‘publication’.
That does not mean Utrecht University will switch to using narrative CVs entirely, however. Faculties, sections and departments are free to choose their own methods. The key is that procedures should provide a justification and explanation for why a person receives an appointment or promotion.
Absolutely; the vision foresees in sustainable employability in het general. The university has not been a purely internal job market for a long time. If only because of the fact that a mere fraction of PhD candidates go on to careers in academia after earning their degrees, institutions have a responsibility to consider the broader issue of employability. We therefore cannot decide on our own for whom we train graduates and which competencies will prepare them for their next step in their careers.
It is in the interest of Recognition and Rewards, the employee and the organisation for us to re-examine our current educational process and potential reforms. It must be clear which development perspectives a position offers the individual, both within and outside the university. By thinking about this issue now, we can avoid creating ‘trap positions’ that keep people in the same place for too long without potential for advancement.
An open attitude is therefore essential. Such an attitude will enable us to think proactively about the career paths open to support staff and PhD candidates, as well as the mobility of employees and researchers who have been working at the university for a longer period. In that context, a logical step would be to consult with the parties that we in the academic community are already collaborating with.