LEGO Serious Play is a globally recognised facilitation method that helps people to think, communicate and problem solve in groups, and is used by some of the largest organisations in the world.

It works by participants using LEGO bricks to build their answer to important questions. This process of building their answer gives everyone involved a chance to think, and think differently, accessing things that they didn’t know that they knew. The bricks then help people communicate that thinking in a tangible way that others can understand and remember, with principles that give everyone equal opportunity to communicate.

This methodology creates engagement and parity, overcoming the factors of personality and hierarchy that normally influence meetings. The bricks also create psychological safety allowing difficult topics to be addressed. These things together mean that a group can solve complex problems with buy-in from all because the answer has come from them.

In this two-hour workshop for eight members of the FLF Development Network, we will send you your own LEGO bricks in the post so you can experience an online taste of LEGO Serious Play. We will use the bricks to explore some of the challenges that are facing you in your academic career, as well as looking under the bonnet of LEGO Serious Play to explore what makes it work.

This workshop is led by Dr Geraint Wyn Story, who is a qualified practitioner of LEGO Serious Play. Geraint runs his own training company and has a background as a Researcher Development Consultant, a manager in biotech, and a PhD in molecular biology.

The successful use of LEGO Serious Play relies on a small number of principles that will be discussed in the workshop. However, before that, we ask anyone who is interested in this workshop to make sure that you:

  • sign up early so we can send the LEGO bricks to you in the post
  • avoid cancelling your place because we won’t have time to send bricks to someone else
  • can attend for the duration of the workshop
  • are able to work from a laptop or desktop computer with a working web camera, microphone and speakers, and with space to build in front of it.

Expect hard fun!

Engaging the public in your research: the why, how, where and when

In these dates for your diary for 2021-22, Professor Barry Smith introduces guidance and support available to members of the FLF Development Network on how to carry out your research and do public engagement.


Academics are increasingly urged to share their research with other organisations and the wider public. To do this productively, in a way that works for you – and your intended audiences – we will provide guidance and support on how you can engage the public in your research meaningfully in a way that advances your research and helps you build your academic portfolio. We will consider how to build support for your project while increasing awareness of your research field as a whole. We will look at what audiences you need to reach, ways you can reach out to communities and engage with museums and galleries, and how you can attract the media to your research and mange relationships with them.

Good public engagement can generate impact for your project, develop your networks and contacts, and expand your spheres of influence, increasing your opportunities for working with non-academic partners.

We have listed the first tranche of events for 2021-22 below, and more will come next year. Bookings will open three months before each date. Please let us know what else you would like to see, and we will do our best to include it in the next round of events.


For those at the outset of their research project who wanted to know how engaging the public could help shape the trajectory of their research:

We ran a 90 min surgery on: How to use public engagement as a research tool on 17 June. You will be able to ‘catch up’ on this session in the coming weeks on our Videos page, and we will be running the session again in April 2022.

For those with results to share or hoping to influence particular audiences:

  • Sept 2021: Attracting the Media to your Research (Registration opening shortly)
    Workshop led by Professor Sarah Churchwell, Chair in the Public Understanding of the Humanities at the School of Advanced Study with editors from BBC Online, radio producers, science correspondents, and editors.

Looking to involve the public in your research?

We look at ways to move beyond crowdsourcing and develop types of participatory research and citizen science.

  • October 2021: From Crowdsourcing to Citizen Science
    Bite-sized workshop where we will discuss examples from those who have run successful citizen science projects.

Where can you go to meet the public? How do you reach new audiences?

We look at ready-made opportunities to showcase your research plus innovative ways for researchers to meet new audiences and keep them engaged.

  • November 2021: Making the Most of Festivals and Building Partnerships
    Workshop where we will hear from programme directors at The Cheltenham Festivals, Being Human Festival, Edinburgh International Festival and PIs running community projects.

How do you start planning your public engagement activities?

What are the do’s and don’ts? What tips can others pass on?

  • November 2021: How to do public engagement: a toolkit (Surgery)

What can your public engagement activity generate and what can it contribute to others?

Building a portfolio of engagement and knowledge exchange. Sustaining the work you have done with the public, keeping them engaged. We will hear from recipients of effective public engagement and look at how this creates social good.

  • December 2021: Different Kinds and Values of Public Engagement (Panel Discussion with Q&A)

How can you share your research with new and more inclusive audiences?

What venues and formats can you find to reach out further and bring more people into the discussion?

We will speak to practitioners who have had considerable success is reaching neglected communities and getting beyond the regular festival and museum goers.

  • January 2022: Finding New Audiences for your Research (Bite-sized workshop)

How do you stay on track and protect your time with engaging with other sectors, and the public?

Dealing with different time-scales, managing expectations, developing relationships.

  • February 2022: Engaging with Other Sectors and the Public on your own Terms (Bite-sized workshop)

How do you ensure Responsible Research and Innovation?

It is important that members of the public not only hear about research but can interact with scientists and policy makers to deliberate on issues of social concern that are relevant to future policy decisions. How do researchers gain practice in engaging in dialogues with the public and other stakeholders (funders, businesses and pressure groups)? Together with members of UKRI we will explore the issues and the needs of researchers who have duties to follow the principles of responsible research and innovation and discover what support is available to them.

  • March 2022: Responsible Research and Innovation and public dialogue (Workshop)

How do you work with the museum and gallery sector?

Have you worked with the museum and gallery sector? Do you want to it and don’t know where to begin? We bring together research directors from Tate Modern, the Science Museum, the British Library and the Getty Center to discuss the ways research can contribute to what they offer the public and how you can be involved.

  • March 2022: Research Collaborations with Museums and Galleries (Panel Discussion with Q&A)

How can researchers in the Arts and Humanities encourage the public to participate in and help them shape their research?

What forms of citizen research are there and how do they work? We will look at examples and hear from practitioners and funders.

  • April 2022: From Public Engagement to Participatory Research in the Arts and Humanities (Bite-sized workshop)

Other Offerings

Of course, don’t forget that there are other related offerings via the FLF Development Network:

  • PLUS funds: if you want to organise something yourself (or with other FLFs), then you may have an idea which is eligible for PLUS funding of up to £25k.
  • Mentoring: you will soon be invited to complete a matching form to enable us to find mentor for you – you could use this opportunity to be matched to a mentor who can give advice on public engagement and knowledge exchange!

Policy Engagement: planned opportunities for 2021-22 – starting with a 90 min introductory session on 2 July

One of the development areas which Fellows and Innovators from our Network have asked for is policy engagement – how policy is made, how it is informed through research, and how to engage with policymakers. Over the next year, we are offering a range of opportunities on this theme, and we encourage you to pick and choose according to your interest and experience. Bookings will open three months ahead of each session; this email is intended to give you an overview of what’s coming, so that you can plan ahead and save dates as needed.

We have a growing line-up of speakers and contributors including:

  • Prof Nick Pearce, currently director of the Institute for Policy Research at the University of Bath, former head of Downing Street’s Policy Unit and special advisor in various Whitehall departments
  • Sir Paul Grice, formerly of the Scottish Parliament, and now VC at Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh
  • Dr Molly Morgan Jones, Director of Policy Engagement, British Academy
  • UK Parliament Knowledge Exchange Team
  • Your fellow FLFs and Innovators

For those of you starting out and curious about how and why to engage with policy:

  • BOOKING NOW: 2 July 2021, 11:00-12:30 – Introduction to Policy Making – information and panel discussions organised by the Cambridge Centre for Science and Policy
  • 26 October 2021 – 60 min Understanding how UK Parliament uses Research – a short session from the Parliamentary Office for Science & Technology’s Knowledge Exchange Team
  • 3 November 2021 – 90 min Policy Engagement Surgery – How to get started – a session to bring all your questions to ask an expert about how to get off the ground with making contact with policy makers

For those of you already making the first steps or already working with policymakers:

  • w/c 17 January 2022 (date TBC) – Policy Workshop to bring you into contact with policy professionals from government, industry, learned societies and civil society. The workshop will provide a forum to debate, cross-examine, and re-evaluate issues that are of direct relevance to both researchers and policymakers. This session will be by application only and places will be very limited because we will be inviting policymakers to meet with you based on your discipline area and interests
  • 25 Feb 2022 – 90 min Policy Engagement Surgery – How to have more impact – aimed at those of you who have some policy experience but wish to have more impact or are facing challenges with your current policy engagement. Bring your questions and challenges to ask the expert

And for all of you interested in how your fellow FLF+s are engaging with policy:

We will be putting on some ad hoc 60 min ‘How I…’ sessions – to hear examples of practice (and lessons learned) from other Fellows and Early Career Researchers who have engaged with policy makers in different ways. We will also be hearing the opposite perspective: policymakers sharing their experience of working with researchers. The first of these will take place on 13 December 2021 with Matt Ryan, FLF at Southampton University and Associate Professor in Governance and Public Policy.

This is just the first tranche of events and more will come next year. Bookings will open three months before each date. Please let us know what else you would like to see, and we will do our best to include it in the next round of events.

Of course, don’t forget that there are other related offerings via the FLF Development Network:

  • PLUS funds: if you want to organise something yourself (or with other FLFs), then you may have an idea which is eligible for PLUS funding of up to £25k
  • Mentoring: you will soon be invited to complete a matching form to enable us to find mentor for you – you could use this opportunity to be matched to a mentor who can give advice on policy making

Since 2013, I have been the Leadership Fellow for the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Science in Culture Theme, where I have been helping to foster meaningful collaborations across the arts, humanities and sciences. The range and ingenuity of projects we funded have shown just how much scope there is for genuine interactions between researchers in the sciences, medicine and engineering and those in the arts and the humanities. I am passionate about significant interdisciplinary research, which in my own work on perception led me to launch a Centre for the Study of the Senses at the Institute of Philosophy in the University of London’s School of Advanced Study. The Centre has pioneered interactions between philosophers, psychologists and neuroscientists and we have two working labs. My own research is on the multisensory nature of perception, focusing on taste, smell and flavour. I publish both theoretical and experimental papers, work with artists and chefs and at times consult for the food and drinks industry.

It is through my role with the AHRC’s Science in Culture Theme that I first met many of my colleagues in the FLF Development Network, when they invited me to be part of Welsh Crucible events. I was struck by the energy and intellectual force of the hand-picked early career fellows attending those events. I could see how well they understood the challenges they faced and how willing they were to equip themselves to meet those challenges. It was also a pleasure to be involved, helping researchers position themselves best to make a difference not only in their own work, but in their commitment to collaborations and in communicating the interest and value of their research to wider audiences. When I was asked to join the Development Network, to work closely with the UKRI Future Leader Fellows, I accepted at once. Together with the FLF+s, this is a wonderful opportunity to contribute to the important changes to the nature of research and research culture in the new future.

An increasing emphasis is being put on the need to communicate our research to a number of publics: to Government, policy makers, patient groups, and the wider public. It is important to build support for university funded research working with those outside the academy in industry and other sectors, and I am equally passionate about the opportunities for the public to participate in our research and to hear about it. As an ex-colleague, philosopher, Jo Wolff, previously a Dean at UCL and now at Oxford, once put it to me: What’s the point of doing all this research if nobody benefits from it? We need better ways to share what we do with the public and to encourage different audiences to engage with us. As part of that mission, I was the founding Director of the Being Human Festival, the UK’s only national festival for the humanities. In encouraging researchers right across the UK to participate, I asked only that they found new and innovative ways to showcase their research and made sure that what they put on was accessible and relevant to people’s lives. The Being Human Festival is in its fifth year now with my successor as director, my colleague at SAS, Professor Sarah Churchwell. In the course of the three years of the FLF Development Network, I hope to meet many of you and look forward to hearing your ideas of how to engage the public with your research. Lots to do and I am looking forward to working with you all.

Prof Barry C Smith

Director, Institute of Philosophy
Centre for the Study of the Senses

AHRC Leadership Fellow for the Science in Culture Theme

School of Advanced Study

University of London

The FLFDN Plus Fund is a flexible funding stream open to FLF+s within the Development Network, offering funding for innovative projects that are aligned with the ethos and aims of the network.

The fund offers up to £25k per project, and has a rolling peer-review group that assesses applications each month so we can get you a decision asap. The review group consists of representatives from across the FLF network (including FLF+s), and offers in-depth and tailored feedback to each applicant regardless of outcome so that applicants can learn about the application assessment process, and have the opportunity to adjust their applications based on the feedback and resubmit.

We as a network are really excited to be able to offer this funding to FLF+s, and can’t wait to see the innovative and exciting projects you are planning. When we start getting projects off the ground we’ll be delighted to share them with the rest of the network so you can see what your peers are doing – for inspiration and collaboration!

If you have an idea for a project that could be funded through the Plus Fund then please visit our Plus Fund webpage for the application form and guidance documents, and don’t hesitate to contact hello@flfdevnet.com if you have any questions.

Hi all! My name is Charlotte, and I am a professional services team member at Cardiff University. I am thrilled to have joined the FLF Development Network recently.

A degree in Psychology, followed by a post grad in Counselling, my career did not follow my educational starting point at all! I have been lucky enough to live and work in different cities in the UK – Cardiff, Manchester and London – developing strong connections as well as people and project management skills, becoming an advanced PRINCE2 project management practitioner and completing management qualifications up to level 5 along the way.

With my career being mainly in the education and training sector, I worked in Further Education and the Private Work-Based Learning sector for many years, developing to senior management level in the private sector. Five years ago, I moved to Higher Education at Cardiff University, managing multi-million-pound research projects. Here I have been able to combine my passion for people management and encouraging others to develop with supporting researchers and their valuable outcomes in research.

On my journey I have had some fantastic mentors (with a couple of not so fantastic), providing me with challenge, support, and knowledge to be able to develop my own career as well as those I manage. I am currently completing a PGCert in Higher Education Management and Administration, which has provided me with an excellent mentoring relationship outside of my institution and area of expertise.

I am excited to be working with the FLF Development Network team and to support you through the development of a mentee-led mentoring scheme, offering insights and guidance from a wide range of mentors to contribute your advancement to becoming leaders in research. Please get in touch with any queries or suggestions as to what you would like from your mentors and mentoring scheme – mentoring@flfdevnet.com.

I look forward to working with you all!

Developing a dynamic and diverse mentoring programme is our goal. Our priority is to serve the needs of the FLFs and Innovators who are part of the Network. Experienced in overseeing the development of mentoring schemes, our mentoring lead, Professor Claire Gorrara, envisions a mentoring scheme that is values-led and responsive to the needs of you, the Future Leaders Fellows and Innovators, during your time on the programme.

‘Mentoring is mentee-driven and matched to mentee goals, interests, values and aspirations.’

Professor Claire Gorrara
FLF Development Network, Research Culture Academic Lead

Our first port of call to develop the mentoring scheme was to obtain your feedback on what you wanted from mentoring during the March 2021 Research Encounter.

What does mentoring mean to you?

A wordcloud generated by FLFDN attendees at Research Encounters 2021
A wordcloud generated by FLFDN attendees at Research Encounters 2021

You are a varied community of researchers working across academia and industry and, as such, provided us with insights into a range of wants and needs that are feeding into the recruitment of mentors and the mentee-mentor matching process. You have told us that you are looking for mentors who will support and challenge you, and bring new and diverse perspectives on topics that include:

  • Experience outside your current field/industry;
  • Understanding others’ aims and values;
  • International experiences and perspectives
  • Guidance on strategic and long-term goals;
  • Insight into more senior careers;
  • Confidence and assertiveness;
  • Coaching on managing relationships and difficult conversations;
  • Opportunities for professional development and career planning;
  • Encouragement and provision of a safe place to articulate challenges and concerns;
  • Reflective feedback.

If you weren’t able to join the event, there is a recording in the video library on the FLF Development Network website – log in to access the Research Encounter Day 2 recording.

We have also been doing 30-minute Drop-in Sessions, with the next being on Monday 10th May. Here, you can provide us with your feedback on what you want from a mentor. Again, please log in and visit the Mentoring Drop-Session event page on the website to register to come along.

Inspired by the information you have shared with us, we continue to develop the mentee–mentor matching criteria with a values-led approach and your requirements at the forefront.

Reaching out to colleagues and associates, we have gathered lessons learnt on the experience of being a mentee and a mentor. We are looking to best practice from mentoring schemes across the UK, some of which colleagues from the FLF Development Network have been involved in developing and delivering. We will ensure our mentoring programme is personalised and agile, based on tried-and-tested pairing models pioneered by consortium partners. We are expanding the existing mentor pool with our own extensive, global contacts and will provide orientation sessions where you will meet your mentors.

Look out for more information on the mentoring scheme in the mentoring section of the website.

If you have any queries or questions on the mentoring scheme, please contact us: mentoring@flfdevnet.com.

At the first Research Encounter event, Navigating Uncertainty, we asked a panel of Professor Kim Graham (Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research, Innovation and Enterprise, Cardiff University), Professor Julian Chaudhuri (Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Education and Student Experience, University of Plymouth) and Professor Sir Jeremy Farrar (Director, Wellcome Trust) for their views on leading in times of uncertainty. They talked about their roles, and the challenges that uncertainty brings in leadership, as well as how they work with the people around them to take decisions in uncertain times.

In this blog Samantha Aspinall summarises their thoughts and advice drawn from their own experiences as senior leaders in the sector.

‘I think that uncertainty is something that affects all of us whoever we are and it certainly affects all leaders, if they’re honest about the roles they play. For example, when to step in, when to lean in, when to lean out, when to step back from something, when to be forceful, when to be less so. And I think it is a something that we all struggle with, if we’re honest. It is magnified at the moment by events happening around us and of course COVID is one of those, but it’s much deeper than COVID. I think we are at one of those inflection points in history when we will look back in many years to come and say that was a really pivotal moment.’

Professor Sir Jeremy Farrar.

How can we as individuals deal with uncertainty?

Uncertainty strikes people in different ways and this, all our panel members agreed, is an area that as leaders it is crucial to understand. Some of us embrace the idea of the unknown, others find it hugely stressful. When I talk to people about how they deal with uncertainty, I often use the analogy of going on a trip (remember that?) to somewhere for the first time. Some are happy to head off with no real itinerary, just arrive and see what they fancy doing. For others this approach is seen as risky because new experiences might be missed due to lack of planning. Of course, it is easy to think about your responses when it is your ‘own’ time, but does that differ when we are at work and shouldering a different type of responsibility? Prof Graham talked about understanding your own response to uncertainty. She focused on understanding as an individual, how you respond when you find yourself in difficult uncertain situations. When feeling uncertain, for example, you might find yourself feeling out of control. That can then create anxiety and induce rumination around decision making. This type of rumination can use up huge amounts of time and energy which in turn stops you focussing on what decisions you can make now and what you can control.

As researchers and innovators, uncertainty is already a part of the job. You have developed ideas, approaches and experiments that need testing and where the outcome is uncertain. You are at the cutting edge of knowledge, where the answers are unknown. Given your experience as researcher, you already know about uncertainty and will have developed approaches to deal positively with it. Prof Graham noted, ‘The adaptations I’ve developed as a researcher – working on uncertain questions – have been vital for me being able to step up a level and work across a much bigger leadership landscape where there is almost constant ongoing uncertainty.’ As an already successful researcher, this is a skill already at your disposal. Our panellists shared their approaches:

  • Take a break. It sounds obvious but this is the time to recognise your triggers and pause before the situation becomes uncomfortable for you to deal with. Stop fighting the fires and put a little space between you and them;
  • Remain calm. ‘How do you remain calm when the world is banging on your door?’ asks Prof Chaudhuri. His response, having seen others do it, is to know enough about the subject to know what’s important, what’s relevant and what’s critical but also being aware of what you don’t know;
  • Talk to your ‘safe’ people. All of us need sounding boards. Whether we prefer to reflect on an issue then share our thoughts or talk through the issues as they arise, a trusted colleague can be invaluable;
  • Think about reflecting on your own responses to uncertainty through your 360 feedback.

How can we be leaders in times of uncertainty?

No-one does their job in isolation, we all work with people. We have already looked at how situations might affect us, so we also need to apply this thinking to our teams. ‘We have to learn to cope with it in our leadership approaches because you can be absolutely sure that if you’re feeling the fear and uncertainty, you can be absolutely sure that those around you are also feeling that in a magnified way,’ Professor Sir Jeremy Farrar. As Prof Chaudhuri says ‘the role of universities has meant that resisting change has not been an option. We couldn’t say, we’re going to close the doors, like John Lewis has done, and when it’s all over, we’ll come back. We’ve had to keep going.’ Not everybody has reacted the same way to the pandemic and the need to pivot.’ When others are looking to you for guidance, it can make you feel uncomfortable at precisely the time when you’re as uncertain as everybody else.

Our panel had some great advice.

  • Develop a crystal clear focus on what you should be doing and what you want to do. (Don’t forget your peripheral vision, you can’t do this in exclusion to other things, but clarity should come with the focus.)
  • Share the focus so that it becomes a collaborative effort
  • Don’t be afraid to share and discuss the what ifs…? People often feel more stressed when they think things are being hidden from them
  • Work together and support each other – this will create resilience that then allows the flexibility to support people when they are struggling and to admit when they’re struggling
  • Listen – develop and use your radar, don’t assume what people need
  • Try, where possible, to manage other’s stress so that they don’t stress you
  • Remember – there is a population distribution of behaviours

And finally all our panel members shared advice about on how to make decisions in challenging times.

‘Don’t rush to make decisions,’ says Prof Chaudhuri, ‘We were being pushed very hard by all of our stakeholders to make very fast decisions, but you do need to stop, take a breath, have a cup of tea, and think, what am I doing here? So take time to reflect, even though you’re working at pace.’

Prof Graham suggests ‘Just the act of writing things on paper, putting things into columns or into two-by-two matrices, whatever works for you, sometimes helps things to be a bit clearer. I suppose in terms of making the decision itself, my underpinning view would be if, when you have to make the decision, ensure you’ve explored every avenue that you can and you kicked everything around, turned over every stone, then sometimes you’ve got to say, what will be will be. It’s about being confident that you’ve done absolutely everything you can do to reach that point where you make the decision.’

The title Future Leaders Fellow may seem daunting, people are looking to you make decisions, but all our panellists reflected that we all need many and diverse voices to help us triangulate what we need to do.

‘I think that ability to see around corners is important, not in a predictive way, but actually trying to see the trends that we’re going through at the moment and see beyond the immediate issues and into a broader context. To see where the interfaces can be generated in order for you, as part of something else, to see around those corners, over those bumps. I think our linear approach, what I call reductionist, is perhaps destroying our ability to thrive at the interfaces, be inclusive and see around corners, which may just be by being open to a different perspective or personality. The combination of knowledge, breadth as well as depth, the humility to work at interfaces, to be streetwise and to appreciate the roles one plays as leaders and then be able to stand on shoulders and see further is what I call, ‘seeing around corners.’ That is where the leadership of tomorrow needs to be generated from.’

Professor Sir Jeremy Farrar

And a final note, some of the ideas suggested link directly with what we are offering as part of the network, mentoring (those ‘safe’ voices), 360 feedback to support understanding how we each react to uncertainty/change and of course if this has raised thoughts on something you would like us to add into the calendar, please let us know.

You have to be forward-looking; it’s the quality that most differentiates leaders from individual contributors…

James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner: The Truth About Leadership

Leadership requires us to know where we are heading, scan the horizon and plan for the future. If we intend to lead others, then we must have an inspiring vision with which to motivate and explain ‘The Why’ of what we (and they) are doing. If everyone is pointing in the same direction, it can save time, confusion and conflict. In this Bridging Session with Tracey Stead, members of the FLF Development Network explored how taking different viewpoints help us become more strategic in approach.

Tracey explores three viewpoints in this blog:

  1. Looking back
  2. Looking down
  3. Looking around

Viewpoint 1 : Looking back from the future

Imagine a positive view of yourself five years from now… a date that’s far enough away that you could have already had a significant impact with your leadership (on yourself, on others, on your research) but not so far away you don’t recognise the world around you (the technology is the same – there aren’t flying cars and household robots).

You’re at a conference, surrounded by your collaborators and peers, and you bump into an old colleague who asks, “What’s new since we last met back in 2021?”

How would you respond?

When you imagine yourself to be in 2026 looking back from there to 2021, how would you answer these questions (take some time to actually journal your responses):

  1. What are the most important aspects of what you’ve done and how you have been (in life and work) over those five years?
  2. What have been your key outcomes? What impact have you had on lives, the environment, society? What has changed in the world because of you and your work?
  3. What are the key outputs of which you are most proud? What is the tangible evidence of what you have achieved? Papers, people, products, events, ideas etc.?
  4. What has been your impact on, or contribution to, your peers, colleagues, department or discipline area? Your friends and family? How would they describe you?
  5. To have achieved all this, what has had to change about your beliefs, behaviours, thoughts or actions?

Answering questions like these helps us become more strategic by shifting our focus forward out of our current activity. Standing in the future, believing we have achieved success, and looking back at those successes helps us get out of our own way and reflect on the things that helped us to get there. When we stand in the present looking forward and thinking of all things we need to do there is a tendency or temptation to only see obstacles or problems.

The FLFs in this Bridging Session found it’s not necessarily easy to do this but is well worth the effort:

  • Exhausting at the thought of it, but rewarding.
  • Really useful, feel like I need to do it more often.
  • I can definitely see that it is valuable but confess I find it really, really hard!
  • It is very helpful. Motivating.
  • Useful to force me to get off the wheel and reflect.
  • It helped lift me out of current challenges/struggles and look forward/get excited about my project again.
  • Thought provoking.

Why not use this viewpoint…?

  • …to connect with and communicate your future vision. Use this shift in perspective with the people you are leading… “Let’s imagine we are there, now let’s think about how we got here.”

Do you find this kind of thinking difficult?

You’re not alone if you do.

We need to build this ‘muscle’ and practice to train it. Having a vision and articulating it is a skill to learn… so we need to train ourselves, and expect it to be difficult to start with.

Still finding it hard? Then look at role models and mentors… what have they done that you admire? Ask them how they got there. What can you ‘borrow’ to add to your own vision?

For young leaders, it can be difficult to envision the future, and few devote any time to this discipline. This can be a barrier to success.

James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner: The Truth About Leadership


Viewpoint 2 : Looking down from above

Research can feel ever expanding, with opportunities and challenges appearing all the time. Plans can go off track, more interesting things come up, we answer one research question and several more replace it, we read a paper and then realise there are ten more that we want to read. As FLFs we are in demand, our colleagues want to involve us in their ideas and opportunities. So how do we keep our goals in mind and orient ourselves amongst a multitude of everyday tasks?

In another shift of perspective, stop, rise above (much like being in a helicopter!) and look down asking yourself, “What is going on here?” Getting a clearer view of what’s happening right now, will help you regroup and carry on planning.

Use these questions to help you take stock of the now.

  1. What is your aim or objective? Think of something you’re aiming for in 6-12 months such as writing a paper, developing a member of staff, or putting together proposal.
  2. What is your current progress score in achieving that objective (out of ten) and why?
  3. What is enabling progress? Think of all the things that are helping you to succeed.
  4. What is getting in the way of progress?
  5. If I had a magic wand I would…
  6. What should continue happening?
  7. What must stop happening?
  8. What must start happening (or happen differently)?
  9. To be successful in implementing these things I need support/interest/contribution from… When and how will you communicate with them?
  10. My biggest priority is… What cannot wait?

Download the PDF stock take diagram

An essential skill in leadership is actually being able to communicate with yourself – so writing down what is spilling around in our heads in this way forces us to be honest with ourselves.

Just touching on this task for ten minutes, the FLFs in the Bridging Session uncovered insights into their current situation which will help them plan next steps:

  • I found this is a really useful prompt for breaking down barriers to a task.
  • [It’s helped me] question specific mindsets.
  • [I need to] protect team members.
  • [I need to prioritise] work on decisiveness – it’s slowing me down on a few things.
  • COVID messes with what my priorities should be.
  • I need to give PhD students/PDRAs more ownership over “my” fellowship ideas to run with them.
  • [My] main issue was my lack of prioritisation and getting sucked into other things – taking me away from the main goal.
  • [I need to] allow more time for forward planning.
  • I am one of the things getting in the way of progress (e.g. procrastination, focusing on obstacles rather than the big picture etc.)
  • [I need to] be kind to myself and accept that the landscape has changed and that this change is outside of my control. This does not prevent strategic thinking.

Why not use this viewpoint…?

  • …as a personal stocktake for ten mins every week or fortnight, or each quarter in more depth
  • …in student/supervisor relationships – ask students to complete the questions in advance with the focus, “How is your progress on your PhD?”
  • …with research collaborators, bring responses to meetings to share and discuss
  • …alongside the Triage Test to help you assert your priorities – see our Triage Test blog post from earlier this year

Viewpoint 3 : Looking further and broader

As we more forward, towards our vision and into our leadership, we need to reflect on what in the wider landscape might affect us and our progress towards our goal.

When we are very early in our research careers, we can be very successful ‘minding our own business’ and getting on with developing skills and generating outputs. As we become more senior, transitioning into leadership and spending more time in our ‘helicopter’ looking toward the horizon, we must get into the habit of being much more aware of the challenges and opportunities that surround us – politics (and Politics), policies, other people’s strategies, international events etc. All could help or hinder our success.

pestle

Being strategic means getting into a position where we know about these broader horizons – working out what we can take control of and planning how to redirect our strategy – then sharing this breadth of awareness with the people we work with. We need to find ways to turn the things coming up in this wider landscape into positive influences on our progress rather than negative, or to change our strategy to navigate around the immovable obstacles.

A useful and well-known tool is the PESTLE technique – a generic business tool developed to facilitate strategic thinking and horizon scanning – to explore political, economic, social, technological, legal and environmental considerations.

Download a PDF of the PESTLE technique

With so many horizons to scan, we need to become as switched on as possible without spending time we don’t have keeping up-to-date. Where might you need to broaden or adapt your reading and conversations to do this? Think about what you can build into your daily routines so you are equipped to know what is coming? Here are just some ideas from the discussions and comments in the workshop:

  • Delegate – ask someone in your team to read a concordat/policy from a funder or your host institution and feed back what it means for your research group.
  • Get to know people on boards and committees and ask them for insights.
  • Connect with senior faculty and have strategic conversations in the corridor.
  • Regularly check the news webpage of governmental departments related to your research.
  • Befriend/follow someone who’s a Twitter-devotee.
  • Get involved in Government Select Committee reviews and calls for expert evidence.
  • Explore policies and agendas in the countries where you will be collaborating.
  • If you’re new to the UK research landscape, get to know how research works in this country. This guide from Imperial College London may help.

Why not use the PESTLE viewpoints…?

  • …to uncover what might influence the success of your research plan
  • …as a horizon scanning exercise with collaborators
  • …with students/postdocs who are planning a long period of research
  • …Why not do a PESTLE analysis of your FLF?

Introducing Helix Innovations, one of FLFDevNet’s program partners

helix

UKRI’s Future Leaders Fellows are the next generation of the UK’s academic research community. Every one of the 205 FLFs and 38 UKRI-named Researchers who take part in the FLF Development Network will have their own particular journey. But many of those will want to explore entrepreneurship, industry and commercialisation as options.

The FLF Development Network, in Partnership with HelixHub, are pleased to announce that all FLFs and participating researchers have the opportunity from Oct 2021 to find their ‘inner entrepreneur’ by participating in a suite of short commercialisation programmes which will start with Lean Start Foundation training and simple introductory session right up to a full market exploration programme called the Lean Launch Programme.

The Lean Start Foundation session will introduce many of the most basic business and entrepreneurship concepts so that all participants get to grips which the language and mindsets of the business world in a friendly and supportive environment and where peer learning and hands-on learning by doing is the overall approach. Whereas, the Lean Launch Programme is intended to help those with a realistic commercial proposition to start the journey to take their research/ technology to market.

So why should researchers engage in a suite of workshops like these? In simple terms a high percentage of successful British businesses are underpinned and driven by world class research that has emerged from the UK’s world renowned education sector and sadly some brilliant research ideas with outstanding commercial potential withered on the vine simply for a lack of understanding from the person or persons who developed the research. These sessions aim to take the fear out of the commercialisation journey and support those FLFs and ECRs who wish to explore this space while respecting the fact that only a small number of FLFs will want to ever start their own business.

This will be a completely new world of intellectual discovery for most FLFs; previous participants of the Lean Launch and ICURe have said they have found to be a great support to their careers.

bridgetI’m so glad to introduce myself as your Community Manager, explain a bit more about what that means and how my role has been designed with you in mind.

I come from a policy background, both in government and in higher education. Partly this has meant building policy that affects researchers, and at times it has meant breaking complex policy down to find out who really benefits. Through this, I discovered a passion for building good research culture, and making sure that researchers are provided with everything they need to be changemakers for research and innovation.

When our partners met last year to discuss what our Network could represent and what it could deliver, one central point kept coming up again and again: the Network and our activities should be FLF-led, and it should be reflexive and responsive to your needs and your goals.

It’s one thing to say this at the outset of a programme, it’s another to embed this into our design and delivery. At the forefront of our minds is the knowledge that the FLF and innovator cohort come from diverse backgrounds, with different experiences, and have different ambitions. So we came up with the idea of ‘tailored coherence’.

  • On the one hand, we’ll provide you with a range of courses which, from our combined experience of working with researchers, we believe can support your development.
  • On the other hand, we are completely invested in responding to your needs – if you want to learn more about complex finances in large scale grants or how to engage with public and political leaders, we will make those opportunities available.

Behind both of these is the information we (and you) will glean from the 360 feedback programme, our mentoring programme, and the Plus Funds pot.

This is where I come in – I’m your ‘one-stop shop’, your pathway into the Network. If you’ve thought of training that you’ll find useful, I can actively pursue that for you. If your 360 feedback or your mentoring partnership reveal areas where you might need further development, I will work with you to identify the best delivery method and put that into place. If you’re at a stage in your development where you need access to a broader network of industry professionals or public figures, I can reach out through our four-nation partnership to help you create those relationships. If you really want to take your skills from the development stage to putting them into action, I will work with you and our Network to create those opportunities.

In my mind, I’m your advocate, your voice in the Network. We designed this programme for you, so it’s essential that we continue to serve your best interests. If something isn’t working well – whether you can’t find a course that fits with your goals, or if you see a chance to build your skills in a new and exciting way – I’m here to help you.

In the coming months, I’ll be getting in touch with each of you individually to see how we can continue to tailor our outputs to your needs and deliver a coherent training and development programme for each of you. In the meantime, feel free to contact me via our email address (hello@flfdevnet.com) with any questions, requests or interests you have.

I’m really looking forward to working with each of you over the next three years!

traceyI’m a freelance coach, facilitator and trainer and over the last 15 years I’ve been specialising in working with researchers at all stages of their career. My work is very varied, but the common theme is helping researchers to establish, lead and manage themselves and their teams, as well as research ideas, projects and collaborations.

My potted career history includes a PhD in Freshwater Ecology, followed by five years working as a Fast Stream Statistician for Defra and the Scottish Government. I subsequently went back in to HE where I established and ran the researcher development programme at the University of Bath. This is where my passion for supporting researchers in their leadership development began.

In 2013 I started my own coaching and leadership development company. I’ve increasingly worked with Research Fellows and new PIs over the last eight years. Something that I really love doing is working with researchers at the transition phase from being managed to leading. That transition can be daunting, liberating, exciting, frustrating …I could keep adding adjectives here! In my coaching I aim to help researchers to notice, be better equipped and make positive choices to develop themselves and others.

I’m going to be working with the FLF Development Network team to support, plan and facilitate much of the leadership training: working closely with the theme leads to make sure you get the bespoke development support that you need. My particular emphasis will be around coaching and leadership skills. My main focus right now is working with Steve Joy to deliver the 360 degree feedback surveys and coaching for you all. This is something I’m really passionate about, having seen the impact of 360 feedback on my previous coaching clients. Understanding how others perceive you, and what they need from you, is crucial for your leadership development.

We’ll be launching the 360 feedback at Research Encounter on 12th March – I’m looking forward to seeing you there.