PRISM network response to Nurse Review

The PRISM network welcomes Sir Paul Nurse’s Independent Review of the UK’s Research, Development and Innovation Organisational Landscape. This review explored how research, development and innovation is currently conducted in the UK. It identified the improvements required to deliver scientific innovation, economic growth and societal benefit to the UK. 

Team science

A key recommendation of the report (p7) is that:

There is a pressing need for more complete ‘end-to-end’ funding of research activities beyond direct research costs, including adequate support for administrative services, sophisticated technical cores and facilities, and for ‘well-found’ laboratories.” 

We welcome the recognition that administrative services are essential to delivering good quality research. In order to do this effectively, it is essential to draw on a wide skill set, which includes project and programme management, technical expertise, stakeholder engagement, proposal development, researcher training, and academic advancement. This is only possible through developing individuals who work across all aspects of the research environment, bringing people and skills together and driving excellence and innovation: this is the role of a PRISM.

Dr Anja Roeding, founder of the PRISM network, said:

It is a long way to go still, but here is hoping that this review will support sector-wide, solution-focussed discussions around "Research Teams" / "Team Science" and the recognition of all its members, their career development support and job security.”

Role for PRISMs

When discussing research staff at universities (p48), the report says the following about PRISMs:

Project and programme managers are also required for effective running of [Research Performing Organisations], and consideration should be given to appropriate career structures and formal training mechanisms for such specialists.”

The PRISM network wholeheartedly welcomes the recognition that professional research managers are specialists. As a community, the Network has been discussing the career structures and the training we need in order to be able to deliver impact for our research teams and organisations. We welcome the encouragement to engage with research performing organisations, funders, professional bodies, and other sector organisations, in order to change research culture to recognise and support these roles.

Culture change

We note that the quote on p48 comes at the end of a paragraph describing how technician roles have sometimes been neglected in UK research. This has recently changed, thanks to groups such as Technicians Commitment, and Midlands Innovation. Two weeks after the publication of the Nurse Review, Research England announced the creation of a new £5.5m national Institute of Technical Skills and Strategy. The PRISM network is delighted to see the recognition of an important group of research-adjacent roles. We are committed to working collaboratively towards the recognition of more of these roles which are essential to carrying out modern research. These include research software engineers, data stewards and of course, PRISMs themselves. 

Benefits to the sector

More than 78 % of PRISM network members declared that they are employed on fixed term contracts, or contracts tied to grants, rather than in permanent/underwritten positions.

For individuals, this precarity leads to concerns about job security and the lack of career progression. The lack of recognition or of a sense of belonging damages the wellbeing and productivity of the individuals in these roles. For research performing organisations, these short-term contracts risk the regular loss of knowledge capital from the organisation, gaps in project management support between contracts, as well as increased redundancy and recruitment costs.

Addressing these challenges will have a direct impact on the successful delivery of research investments, maximising the return on investment for research initiatives.

Call to action

It’s time to start the detailed conversations about how to deliver ‘end-to-end’ funded research activities, and in particular the role for PRISMs in this endeavour, in ways that support organisations, individuals and the research itself. The PRISM network is ready to talk to funders, research performing organisations, professional bodies, other sector organisations, PRISMs and PRISM allies. We can help you identify unmet needs, successful strategies and useful contacts. Get in touch.
Last edited: 22 Mar 2023