Our commitment to the Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA)

Find out more about the University of Sussex’s commitment to the Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA) and its principles.

Assessing and evaluating the quality of research

The University of Sussex is a signatory to the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment and commits to two key principles for assessing and evaluating research quality.

Principle 1: Research outputs and other research contributions will be evaluated on their intrinsic merit, rather than relying on inappropriate proxies and metrics such as the title or impact factor of the journal in which the research was published.

Principle 2: The quality of a researcher’s work will be evaluated in terms of a wide range of contributions beyond research publications, such as datasets, training of early-career researchers, and impacts on policy and practice.

Advancing research and impact across all disciplines

Implementing these principles is recognised – by the University of Sussex, other academic institutions and organisations, major funding bodies, and stakeholders across the world – as beneficial both for the advancement of research and impact across all disciplines and for the career development of individual researchers. This is true at all stages of an academic career, from reviewing progress during doctoral training through to assessing research by established professors.

1. By being explicit about the criteria used to evaluate the intrinsic merits of research contributions, and by assessing a wider range of meaningful and impactful indicators of research quality, benefits will accrue to individual researchers whose work may otherwise be under-valued by practices that prominently prioritise crude proxies such as Journal Impact Factor.

2. Alignment with these principles can also help to widen researchers’ access to appropriate outlets for their work, reducing structural inequalities that influence recruitment, promotion, and pay review.

3. A research and impact culture based upon these principles will foster a more inclusive approach to demonstrating the value of the academy to society. The more rounded consideration of researchers’ profiles, recognising and celebrating contributions beyond a narrow listing of research publications, offers more opportunity for knowledge mobilisation and exchange, thereby facilitating impactful outcomes.

Implementing the DORA principles

The University of Sussex has embarked upon an institutional project sponsored by the PVC for Research, Professor Keith Jones and endorsed by the Heads of all academic Schools, to build on existing good practice and to ensure that these principles are implemented and embedded across the institution. The main implementation work is underway, including establishing a sustainable process for ongoing monitoring and review of this implementation. The implementation plan includes five major strands of activity.

1. The implementation includes a comprehensive audit, review, and (where relevant) revision of all relevant research assessment systems, policies, and practices throughout the academic career journey. We have so far overhauled the appraisal system following extensive engagement with the academic community (including researchers) and we are now actively promoting and encouraging all academics to use the new Assessment and Development Reviews process/system to support career development, with a review due after a year of operation to refine in light of user feedback.

HR are reviewing the University level onboarding and induction process and will be engaging with schools in due course to help tailor the induction for specific disciplines.

Probation review is underway and benchmarking against the sector has taken place, this will form part of an overarching process that has reviewed job descriptions for all academics including researchers, which will lead in (quickly) to reviewing promotion processes and criteria, this work is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2023.

2. The implementation includes extensive work to raise awareness, provide training, and offer guidance and advice to researchers and Professional Services staff across all divisions. This consolidates and builds upon training and guidance that is already in place to support researchers’ understanding of responsible metrics. This is complemented by an ongoing programme of both internal and external communications and advocacy, to share and celebrate progress with the implementation.

3.The implementation includes systematic approaches, targeted resources, and digital tools that enable researchers to collate and present the full spectrum of their research contributions and outcomes, beyond a traditional listing of research outputs. We have expanded use of our Elements research profile system with appropriate capability-building and training for researchers, as well as a clear interface with our systems and processes for research assessment and planning.

4. The implementation includes engaging with external partners, both in academic and non-academic sectors, to highlight and spread our commitment to these principles. We are showcasing this commitment in our interactions with external organisations, such as publishers, funding bodies, professional bodies and societies, and non-academic partners, and we explicitly demonstrate our alignment with other institutions and organisations that have also committed to these principles, including many universities and funding bodies globally.

5. The implementation includes the establishment of a monitoring and review process, enabling regular institutional review of adherence to these principles, as well as mechanisms for reporting and addressing breaches of the principles.

Ensuring the effectiveness of our implementation

We recognise that effective implementation of the above principles introduces a number of challenges that need to be addressed in order to avoid confusion, to reduce researcher burden, and to address inequalities. The consideration of a wider range of research outputs, contributions and outcomes on their own merits raises a number of specific challenges, and we have identified several priorities for the implementation.

1. Ensuring that all staff involved in collating and submitting research for assessment, or in scrutinising and reviewing the quality of such submissions, are allocated appropriate time and support for doing so, without creating any unnecessary or unreasonable burden.

2. Addressing concerns about departing from established evaluation frameworks within particular disciplines, particularly where these may still be used by competitors and external stakeholders.

3. Maintaining a high level of rigour and robustness in all assessments of research quality, with advance planning to address unconscious bias and/or structural inequalities relating to the preparation and assessment of qualitative narratives about research quality. In addition, an Equality Analysis will be undertaken as a key element of all strands of the implementation process described above.

4. Identifying the opportunities afforded by alternative metrics used to evaluate research quality of individual outputs and other contributions, and ensure that these are factored into research assessment processes where appropriate. Our Publication Metrics guide explains both traditional and alternative metrics.

5. Achieving clarity in advice and guidance for staff researchers, notably early-career researchers, with regard to the appropriate balance of research activities needed for career development.

6. Reducing administrative burden by supporting academic Schools to use our Elements research profile system to collate and report on the full range of research outputs, activities and outcomes achieved by their researchers.

The work to formulate this statement of commitment and to formulate the key framework for the action plan was undertaken by a Working Group consisting of: senior academics from different disciplines; leaders from professional divisions for Research & Innovation, the Library, Human Resources, Planning, and Communications; and early-career researchers. Following consultation within academic Schools and the above Professional Services divisions, this statement of commitment was approved by the University’s Research and Knowledge Exchange Committee in December 2020.

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