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This Is How We Can Change the Face of Collaborative Research

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The Research Ideas Catalogue – Knowledge and Impact (RIC-KI), is a newly-launched web-based platform that connects researchers who have great ideas, but not necessarily the time or resources to develop them on their own. 

The platform is initially focusing on research ideas related to physical activity and health, weight management and dietary behaviours, health and well-being, and sport. We feature a collection of research questions in these areas that academics wish to share with the global scientific community as potential collaborative research projects. These ideas might be fully formed and in need of a collaborator with a specific expertise, or they might be early thoughts around an interesting area of research that will be defined once collaborators have been found. The owners of the ‘ideas’ list their suggestions and how they wish to collaborate, with potential research partners then completing an online expression of interest form. The RIC-KI platform then connects both parties.

In my role as professor of behavioural medicine and director of Loughborough’s Centre for Lifestyle Medicine and Behaviour (CLiMB) I can often find I’m struggling to fulfil all the research ideas I have, which was the motivation for creating the platform. Not wanting the ideas to go to waste, I wanted to see if it was possible to develop a platform that connected scientists interested in collaborating. 

One of the most effective ways to advance science is to do it collectively, by working together and sharing research ideas, but asking researchers to openly share their ideas is a huge departure from the typically secretive nature of academic research. Many people might wonder why anyone would give their ideas – their key assets – away freely. While we have put a number of security and privacy measures in place, our ambition is to change the mindset of researchers to consider sharing their ideas to help their research go further, faster. 

Our ideas alone benefit no one. In health sciences, our work has huge potential to improve the health and well-being of the whole population. Ultimately, society is reliant on researchers producing the work that helps them to live happy, healthy lives, so when we hold onto ideas we are unlikely to ever get around to working on, it just delays meaningful advances from making it to the people we set out to help. It’s critical that we convert these ideas into impactful research without unnecessary delays – even if it requires a new way of working and breaking down the barriers that have kept researchers working in isolation and in competition with each other. For an idea that stands little-to-no chance of coming to fruition, there’s nothing to lose by sharing it with others who could turn it into a live project that becomes impactful research.

Through RIC-KI, I hope that we can stop high quality ideas going to waste and help health researchers be more connected. There are other benefits to this approach. RIC-KI offers us an opportunity to reassess the hierarchy often found within the various academic ranks, so one of our core principles is that all researchers’ ideas are equals. Early career researchers’ ideas are listed alongside those of renowned professors. Any researcher can express an interest in any idea, as long as they meet the criteria specified, regardless of their institution, career stage or funding. This enables new collaborations that would never have come about, producing fresh perspectives on research questions through new combinations of skills and expertise. 

Exploring alternative routes to collaboration offers a new way to support early career researchers and marginalised academics. Many established researchers have spent years on the conference circuits, talking about their research to a wide audience of their peers, benefitting from their feedback and the networking opportunities that these events offer. But after almost two years of disruption from Covid and the increasing pressures on university budgets, many academics find themselves unable to travel in the way they did previously, as well as those researchers whose personal circumstances prevent them from taking time away from home who have never been able to benefit from in-person conferences.

Looking at the global picture, there are huge inequalities in the opportunities available to researchers in different parts of the world, but by allowing scientists to come together we can help make sure the best researchers can access a more level playing field when it comes to finding collaborators, funding and resources – and in return, we have the opportunity to access new populations and datasets.

You can visit our website to find out more, and perhaps your next collaborative research project. You can also connect with us on Twitter @LboroRICKI

Professor Amanda Daley is professor of behavioural medicine and the director of the Centre for Lifestyle Medicine and Behaviour (CLiMB) at Loughborough University.

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