Research that delivers. Directly

16 May 2008

Australia is failing to capitalize on the ability of its researchers in the most fundamental area: their power to solve problems.

A new report – Rigour and relevance – from the Council for the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences (CHASS), calls for a three-prong solution to this issue.

Professor Stuart Cunningham, President of CHASS, said such work aims to solve everyday problems such as transport in our cities; welfare in aboriginal communities; climate change; housing affordability, and healthy lifestyles.

“We need to support a new form of research, one that is strategically-driven, problem oriented and cross-disciplinary in nature,” he said.

“If you want to solve a problem, then the person or organisation with the problem has to be in control. They have to set the issues, ensure the work remains focused, and pay the bills. The organisation with the problem needs to be in the driver’s seat.”

The first recommendation is a new role for Government departments: to develop a research plan so they can identify the big problems in their portfolio.

The capacity of government departments to undertake or commission research was heavily run-down in the last decade, and few have the capacity to conduct research.

The second recommendation will make it easier to assemble cross-disciplinary teams to work on problems. Issues may, for instance, require the combined skills of an historian, an engineer, a lawyer, an economist and a biologist.

“Yet all our systems discourage people to work outside their disciplines. It’s hard to work across university departments, and it’s hard to get funding for projects that span disciplines. We need to break down the silos,” Professor Cunningham said.

The third recommendation concerns a new career path for researchers. Generally researchers are promoted for making discoveries and publishing the results.

“Discovery research is vital, and Australia must continue to invest in new ideas,” Professor Cunningham said. “But we also need to construct a new alternative career path, for researchers who want to apply knowledge to solving problems.”

The report Rigor and relevance is available from 3:00pm Sunday 18 May. Principal author was Dr John Howard, Director Research at CHASS.

Media are invited to the launch of the report at the Lobby Restaurant in Canberra, on Tuesday 20 May at 10 am.

For interview: Dr John H Howard 0403 583 600
For information: Toss Gascoigne 0408 704 442
Executive Director
Council of the Humanties, Arts and Social Sciences
Phone: +61 2 6201 2740