Amongst the various funding schemes offered, the UK research councils support the development of research communities through schemes such as AHRC networking and EPSRC Digital Economy Network Plus grants. While it is possible to learn about the activities of these networks during their period of funding by reviewing their details on the Gateway to research, it is a more difficult task to discover their long-term impact.
This blog post concerns a new publication that addresses the question of network sustainability within a community of library and information science (LIS) researchers and practitioner researchers. They were initially brought together in 2011/12 thanks to an AHRC networking grant, and with the support of the Library and Information Science Research Coalition, in a project entitled Developing Research Excellence and Methods (DREaM).
The broad goal of the DREaM project was to develop a UK-wide network of LIS researchers. The mechanism for this was the delivery of five network events in 2011 and 2012:
- A launch conference in London in July 2011;
- Three linked workshops held in Edinburgh and London (October 2011, January 2012 and April 2012);
- A concluding conference in London in July 2012.
In total more than two hundred people actively engaged in the DREaM project at these events over the course of its 18-month duration. The reach of the project extended further through remote access to the project’s online outputs: around 80 blog posts, 800 tweets, and numerous web pages, SlideShares, SoundClouds and Vimeo videos. Links to these resources are found in the table on the DREaM project page on the Library and Information Science Research Coalition’s web site.
At the core of the project were members of the ‘DREaM workshop cadre’. This comprised a group of librarians, academics, researchers, PhD students and other LIS professionals (for example from the UK LIS professional bodies) who participated in all three workshops (at a minimum – some also attended one or both of the DREaM conferences).
At the end of the project in 2012 Louise Cooke of Loughborough University and I were able to demonstrate through a social network analysis (SNA) that the number of ties amongst cadre members and the density of their network had grown over the duration of the project. These findings (amongst others) were reported in our article ‘Facets of DREaM: a social network analysis examining network development in the UK LIS research community’ published in the Journal of Documentation in 2013. (The full text of this article is available from the publisher with subscription access and the full text of the manuscript is available to download from the Edinburgh Napier repository.)
At the end of the 2013 publication, we highlighted the appetite of the cadre members to continue their relationships after the end of the programme. We noted that the ‘challenge in the LIS community [would] be to maintain the existing links and further develop the network so that it evolves into a self- sustaining and continuously developing supportive community for LIS research’.
Three years later an opportunity arose to conduct a follow-up SNA of the DREaM cadre membership in a project named DREaM Again. A team from the Centre for Social Informatics set out to examine the extent to which the cadre members continued to operate as a network without the formal support offered by the initial AHRC project funding, and to determine whether the cadre members had managed to overcome the challenge of long-term sustainability that Louise and I highlighted in the 2013 article.
The Journal of Documentation has recently accepted a journal article that I co-authored with Peter Cruickshank and Bruce Ryan on the shape of the DREaM cadre network three years after project funding ended. The findings that we report in ‘Long-term community development within a researcher network: a social network analysis of the DREaM project cadre‘ show that the group continued to work as a loose, but persistent, network in which social ties had assumed greater importance than work ties, and with academics and researchers at its core. We also note that the job status of individuals in the DREaM network did not have an impact on their position in the community (for example at the centre, or at the periphery), and that physical proximity is important to the maintenance of network ties. We also make some practical recommendations in the article. Of importance to future funded initiatives such as the DREaM project is that social infrastructure is key to the long-term health of a network initiative, and continued ad hoc support would strengthen it further.
The full article will be published in the Journal of Documentation in due course. In the meantime, if you would like to learn more about the results of this study, please contact me by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.