One of the central roles of academia is to allow individuals to develop an ability to understand and undertake research. However, research, like many of the other core activities of higher education, is a complex process. It not only involves a spectrum of skills and knowledge, but requires consistent and continued engagement if it is to become a well-developed capacity within the individual. Whilst various frameworks have been developed to aid the development of researchers, the most popular being that developed by Vitae, they tend to treat research as a set of relatively generic skills to be fostered, first through the identification of deficiencies from a tick list of attributes, and from this the offering of ‘workshops’ to bolster those areas deemed to be weak. Such a view of ‘researcher development’ tends to focus only on post-graduate study, particularly doctoral provision, and beyond. However, this form of training tends to cast the emerging researcher in the role of consumer and ‘budding scientist’. It does not see research as something to be fostered from an early stage in higher education, and it creates a reductive notion of research as the intersection of transferable skills, employability and research methods. Whilst all of these are important aspects of researcher development there is much here which is lost.
Here, a different view of both research as an activity embedded within wider cultures of academia and how research competence emerges within individuals is offered, conceptualised as the notion of developing a research literacy.
The starting point for conceptualising research literacy shares a genealogy with the concept of pedagogic literacy (Cajkler and Wood, 2016). Firstly, as with teaching, all humans have a tendency to experiment and research in an informal way. Often this capacity is ill defined and immature. Individuals will investigate interests online, will visit locations of interest, etc. In these cases there is an attempt to investigate and understand the world. These attempts are often very informal in nature, and do not follow what academic researchers would understand as coherent and acceptable methodologies and designs, but there is a base inquisitiveness which individuals use to engage with the world in an attempt to understand it. This is the basis of research literacy, the major differences with an experienced researcher being those of degree, experience, knowledge and application to understand and develop well considered, critical approaches to research.
The other aspect of research literacy which is shared with pedagogic literacy is the notion that an endpoint is never reached. Research literacy continues to be developed across a career as new opportunities arise, as researchers continue to reflect, to experiment and create new ways of gaining insight, and as they learn from the research of others. This is a complex and time consuming process and involves a series of dimensions. In Figure 1, I lay out what I believe the main dimensions of research literacy to be. They demonstrate a wide spectrum of issues and concepts, and are not exhaustive. It is my contention that research literacy is a complex of ideas and practices. As such it is impossible to capture the entirety of the process in a model, as to do so the model would need to be as large as the reality it attempts to summarise (Cilliers, 1998). What is offered here is the basis for ongoing dialogue between researchers rather than an exhaustive ‘tick list’ of skills and competences. It is a philosophical framework rather than a performative one.
What follows in the following posts is a discussion of the dimensions within the research literacy framework, followed by implications for developing research literacy within organisations. This latter aspect is important, as whilst this framework has predominantly been developed for use in higher education institutions, it should translate into other types of organisation, whilst accepting that the focus on research use may be different and may lead to the development of research literacy in different directions. However, whatever the reasons for developing a research literacy it needs to be understood that it is a long term, emergent process; engagement with research in whatever capacity requires humility, reflection and application over a whole career.