Shiftwork: A Basic Plan

You can put these activities to use to develop a research practice that deepens social impact. Resist believing that reading will lead to a change in practice. It will not. For practices to be transformed one needs more than a cognitive unsettling. What is required is sustained curiosity and action as you imagine, rehearse and develop new research activities and processes.

  1. First focus on your intrinsic motivation to turn toward impact. Be clear about why you want to do this beyond any institutional or external motivation. More than anything, a clear sense of purpose will carry you as you adapt and refine your practice. See the Finding Purpose activity.

  2. Use the shifts identified in Questioning Practice as an inventory of what the implications for your practice might be. Some shifts will seem easier than others, for example, adopting plural perspectives on data might be easier for an ethnographer than a quantitative researcher. Spend more time with the changes that are challenging, and explore what you will need to let go of. Explore the research metaphors in Responsible Impact to interrogate what needs to be examined more critically.

  3. The next move is a creative one. If done properly it will also be galvanising. Imagine years from now the research practice you hope to have or the research culture you hope your institution could have. Then colour this scenario with detail, share it with peers, and expand the vision together. Imagine the partners you got to work with and the stories of impact you heard on the journey. Your envisaged future might focus on: the beneficiaries’ stories, the depth of long term interdisciplinary collaborations, the opportunity to stay connected to a community over decades, or the scholarly contribution to your discipline. Be sure to consider what you are not interested in, and what future you shut down. This picture of your future self or future institution is all useful information for grounding you in the present, clarifying what skills you want to build and why this matters to you. As a researcher, try The Tomorrow Party or as an institution, explore In a World Where…

As you begin the process of shifting your practice, consider the commitments you are making to yourself, collaborators and/or beneficiaries. Reflect on the Research Principles you hold dear. Make explicit what you will try first. Talk with your supervisor or colleague about one thing you will do, whether that is to always begin with a stakeholder analysis map or add milestones to a project to test some assumptions. Make sure the first move is not too ambitious. A change that feels manageable and yet meaningful is the strongest starting point.

The ideas here can be adapted for specific contexts: professional learning as a department, mission-defining as a lab or impact planning for an interdisciplinary project team. The diagrams, the activities, the questions and the shiftwork lenses can all be adapted for a structured workshop or an informal discussion. The core invitation is to be more inquisitive than defensive, and to reflect on what habits, routines, values you might have to let go of to make space for new ways of collaborating, engaging and researching to evolve.