Measuring Sustainable Development Research in a University

International frameworks and the UK Research Councils highlight the need for Sustainable Development Research  to inform policy making, science and technology, yet indicators to measure this activity in universities are only slowly emerging.

Kingston University’s first attempt to establish a practical methodology for an Sustainable Development Research indicators based on a highly replicable desk-based study. Visiting students from Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), working with the University of Worcester and Kingston University, have attempted to enhance the methodology, contributing a global perspective, and applied the methodology to University of Worcester to understand the state and depth of sustainable development research at their university.

This methodology, the first of its kind, is intended to have widespread applications, and will ultimately allow any location to assess their own sustainability research.

Thus far, the WPI students have begun using the methodology to assess University of Worcester research staff, and are making critiques along the way. A later phase,  involves interviewing select members of the research staff.
Compiling research active staff profiles
1.    The Kingston methodology developed by Dr Victoria Hands and Dr Richard Anderson  used content analysis and thematic analysis to extract keywords related to sustainability from the Kingston University Sustainability Policy and the United Nation’s document titled, “Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”.
2.    The researchers used a search tool on the Kingston University webpage to find research active staff that marked one of the keywords as their subject area.
Analysing the profiles
3.    The Kingston researchers then grouped the Kingston University researchers based on their link to sustainable development research, either as high link, potential link, or a weak link.
4.    Based on these results, a rough estimate of which faculty and which departments contribute most to sustainable development research was developed.

As part of the WPI project, the student researchers used the same analysis on University of Worcester researchers by using a slightly altered method.

1.    Because University of Worcester does not have Kingston’s “Find a Researcher” page, they used a special Google search to find acdemics at University of Worcester that had keywords in either their profile or the publications listed in their profile.
2.    They created a spreadsheet that lists all academics that had any keywords associated with them.
3.    The academics were analysed in number of keywords associated with them and which ones. From this, they will determine any correlations between the keywords and the level of sustainable development research undertaken.

The next step of our project is to create a map of researchers at University of Worcester by interviewing key staff identified. The student researchers will employ a process called “snowballing” where a sample of researchers is first identified, and then these researchers identify more researchers that are related to sustainable development research.

This should lead us to more interesting and relevant researchers than our initial spreadsheet, because of potential errors in either our spreadsheet or the staff profile directory. Once staff are identified, we will interview them to find more information.

The first half of the conversation focuses on exploring the current research the staff member is undertaking as well as their opinion on sustainability projects. Through this part of the conversation, they hope to determine the staff’s link to sustainable development research. Additionally, it will help them build a picture of the sustainability topics and language used at the university. The second half of the conversation focuses on establishing networks the staff member already identified. By asking for related researchers we could not only establish existing connections, but also find future interviews.

Watch a short video here

Sylvester Halama – Aerospace Engineering,  James Macfarlane – Civil Engineering, Virginia Nunez Mir – Biochemistry and Bioinformatics

WPI campus Massachusetts USA

WPI campus Massachusetts USA



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