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(S1E2) Meet the Culturositists: Introducing Ged Hall and Research Impact
Episode 22nd November 2022 • Research Culture Uncovered • Research Culturosity, University of Leeds
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In our weekly Research Culture Uncovered conversations we are asking what is Research Culture and why does it matter? This episode is part of Season 1, where we get to meet the hosts in a bit more detail before they go on to host seasons on their specialist topic. In this episode your host Emma Spary is joined by Dr Ged Hall.

Ged Hall is an Academic Development Consultant at the University of Leeds, leading our Research Impact provision. He is passionate about working with researchers to embed a culture of impact across the institution. He has designed, and delivers, our fantastic Building Impact Momentum programme and supports the University Impact Network. You can connect to Ged via LinkedIn or Twitter (@HallGed).

I ask Ged what he thinks the biggest challenges are for researchers, what we do well at Leeds, where he thinks we can improve and what he hopes to see in the future. His main messages include:

  • The differences in how we define research impact
  • Impact taking many forms and the need for researchers to define what their impact looks like
  • Once identified, how do you make it happen?
  • How cohort based programmes can play a role in creating an impact culture
  • How time and resource can be barriers to achieving impact

Be sure to check out the other episodes in this season to find out more about the hosts Emma Spary, Ruth Winden, Tony Bromley and Nick Sheppard with a few special guest appearances.


Follow us on twitter: @ResDevLeeds, @OpenResLeeds, @ResCultureLeeds

If you would like to contribute to a podcast episode get in touch:



Welcome to the Research Culture Uncovered podcast, where in every episode we explore what is research culture and what should it be. You'll hear thoughts and opinions from a range of contributors to help you change research culture into what you want it to be.


Hi, it's Emma, and for those of you who don't know me yet, I lead the researcher development and culture team at the University of Leeds. And in this role I get to work on all different aspects of research culture. You're joining us in season one where we're getting to know our co-hosts in a bit more detail before they go on to hold seasons of their own, each uncovering a different aspect of our research culture.

And I'm delighted today to be joined by Dr. Ged Hall. Ged is an academic development consultant at the University of Leads with a special focus on research impact. Or as we prefer to call him our arch mage of impact. There's nothing he doesn't know. I've shared an office with Ged for quite a few years, and it was during this office sharing that I also found Ged has a love of pies, and I think we can actually call him a pie connoisseur. So Ged what's your favourite pie?


Oh, well, I have, um, I have a pinny um, and that sounds a bit strange, doesn't it? I have a pinny. Um, but on that pinny, there is a, there is a motto that I kind of live by, uh, and it says, In the world there are many types of food, some of which are pies.

And some of which should be pies. So it's really difficult to actually select a favorite pie. But I, I think I have to go back to what I used to wander around town in Blackburn when I was a teenager, Munching. And that was steak and kidney. Ooh,


see, I think I'm a bit of a pie bore mine would be chicken or maybe a, a good cheese and onion. But with that really tasty cheese,


well also being a, a very proud Lancastrian, lancastrian cheese and onion pie is a really close second.


I mean, we could talk about pies all day. Um, and maybe that will be an episode that you do in your own season. But today we're here to talk about research impact, and you haven't always worked on research impact.

It wasn't something that you set out doing. So what was it that drove you to focus on this, and what is it that you really enjoy?


Well, I think that's interesting cos when I go back, you know, think all the way back to the dark ages when I was doing my, um, PhD, the reason I did my PhD was an impact, reason, not a, um, not a knowledge production reason.

Um, so I did stuff around, uh, trying to find really exotic techniques to investigate combustion situations. And that was for a purpose of trying to reduce CO2 emissions. So I'm really sorry that I've not had that impact as yet. Um, but it's always been the reason why I'm involved in higher education.

Um, and I think to some extent when I came to Leeds, the job was advertised as innovation and enterprise. And you kind of go, Okay, that speaks to some disciplines, but actually I don't want to just work with some disciplines. I'm a bit of a magpie like that, I like hearing about different research from different, especially if it's very different to what I did.

So if it's out of the sciences, uh, and maths sort of area, um, And, and that's, that's really the kind of key thing that drove me in is that actually it's important to be having impact in with all the kinds of research that we do, not just about that, that could be commercialized or sold. Um, and actually most academics at the are their kind of, you know, the deep values layer are not driven to do their research because of it might be commercializable, you know, they're driven to, to make a, a positive difference often, whether that's within their discipline or outside of their discipline in a kind of, you know, true impact sense of the word. So, um, so I think that that's why I think it, for me, impact is the purpose of universities not just knowledge production.


So when we are talking about impact at the University of Leeds, we're talking about impact in all its many forms. Do you think that researchers have a clear understanding of all the different forms that impact can take and why they're important?


So I think academia suffers from a lot of issues and, and one of them is, uh, kind of debates around definitions.

You know, what is or what isn't impact. Um, and to some extent those are important in some situations. Like for instance, is it impacting in a REF sense and therefore can it be submitted as a case study? Bearing in mind that the REF definition is written so wide to take almost anything, um, that's an effect or change on anything outside of academia, um, within its definition of boundaries.


And when we talk about REF, we mean the research excellence framework.


Oh God, yeah. Sorry Emma, for using the acronym, but I think what's most important actually is for each and every individual research to think what's the impact I care about? And that's the only definition that really matters. So if you, you know, if you as an individual, um, really only care about, um, some form of environmental change, then focusing on that, understand how that happens, work out what your contributions could be to the, to the change in that space. So, although it's worthwhile knowing all the different forms, cuz you know, you might change research track during your career, you might help disciplines.

You, you might do all sorts of different things because of your, you know, that's where your curiosity is taking you. So although it's worth understanding that, I think it's really worthwhile just immediately, first of all, asking the question when you set off on a new research project or a trajectory, what do I care about here in terms of impact?


So is there anything else they should be considering?


I think in terms of, there's then the complexities and understanding how it, how it might occur is, is probably the real challenge. So once you've got a sense of what the destination is that you are, that you are hoping to arrive, There's then the uncertainty in how, you know that that's where, that's actually where most people struggle.

Once they've got a clear understanding of what their, what their impact could be, it's how to make it happen. Especially when you sort of think, Well, here I am one individual working at one university, um, in the north of England. Um, you know, what, what is it that I can contribute to that, uh, to that change?

And I think the, the, the first thing I'd say there is, um, initially think small. Get, get ready for the, um, get ready for that bigger change by trying to enable smaller changes first.


Great. Thank you So, you lead the development provision for research impact at the University of Leeds, what do you think we're currently doing well, or actually what do you think you are currently doing well and what would you like to see more of?


Yeah, that's a, that's an interesting question for somebody who doesn't like blowing their own trumpet , Um, now, I can tell you what I, what we do, um, and what I enjoy and, and if people also enjoy it and get a lot from it, I'm happy about that. Um, so we offer, uh, impact coaching. So that's entirely bespoke. Um, that's open whenever, you know, there's, um, so it's whenever somebody wants to get in touch, but we advertise quarterly to try and stimulate, uh, stimulate that.

So in those and in those initial conversations with people who take up the offer, you know, we, we try to work out what is it they're, they're wanting to achieve, How long do they think that might be? Um, we keep asking the question each time we meet them, um, is there something else we need to do together?

Um, so the, the commitment is however long the person wants, person or group. Um, and what we talk about, uh, in each session, which session, You know, that can be 30 minutes, it can be an hour, it can be whatever, you know, it's, as I said, entirely bespoke. Um, whatever we talk about is driven by that person's project, where they want to go, the impact that they care about and what they feel, you know, they're challenged by, you know, that might be sort of confidence issues. It might be not knowing, um, how change happens in a policy space, for instance. It could be all sorts of things, but it's, it's driven by their needs rather than any content that I'm looking to push out them.

Um, Building Impact Momentum is a cohort based program. Um, so again, that's longitudinal. It roughly lasts for about a, a university term. Um, so we put people in, we take 15 people onto the program when we put them into groups of three. Uh, and we base those groups on the types of impact they're hoping for.

So we do that in, in the recruitment, get a sense of what people are, uh, are interested in, and then we put people together so that those conversations are as useful as possible when they're in breakouts, for instance. And also because it's longitudinal, there's lots, lots more time for people to reflect and act, which is the most important thing on the content that we're, that we're taking people through. So there is a bit more of a, uh, of a structure in the, in building, impact momentum, although as happened on the pilot for that program, if, um, if a group wants to kind of focus in on a different topic related to impact, obviously.

So if they want to, we're talking about research culture here. If they want to change the culture in their, in their research group, um, to be more impact focused, we had a session around how they might do that, for instance, um, Mainly because the groups that those people were from were kind of really driven by outputs, unfortunately.

You know, kind of it's the outputs that matter and you kind of go, yeah, right there. Once you've had 20 outputs, does it really matter how many more outputs you've got? Um, doesn't to me, I, I'm impact led. Uh, it does to some people, but you know, if you wanna change that culture because you are more impact led.

Uh, then we'll try and help you with that through, through Building Impact Momentum.


So how would you describe the current culture at Leeds?


I think Leeds, Leeds has a culture of being quite open and um, and actually collaborative. Uh, and that's improving all the time actually. So one element of that is the impact network.

So there's about a hundred people in that network, um, all who have, you know, all who care about impact to some extent in their role within the institution, whether that's based in the school, whether that's, uh, based at faculty level or uh, or like myself in a central service. And we cross support each other.

So, um, building impact momentum drills tutors from the whole of that network. So, It isn't just me doing building impact momentum, it's, it's a real collaboration with, um, with, at the moment about 10 people who are tutoring on that programme. You know, we run three, uh, three per year, so lots of opportunities and, and it's always open to kind of, people to come and shadow it and go, Yeah, I'm, I'm interested in, in that way of doing it.

I might do one locally that's a bit more specific maybe for a school or I might do one, um, for a specific type of impact, for instance. There's all sorts of ways we can, uh, we can tweak that. So I think, um, the other thing I'd say we're doing well as an institution. Is that, um, we've begun to talk about impact much more just in informal ways and formal ways in terms of our, you know, our internal comes.

So for instance, um, we have a regular monthly, you know, here's, uh, here's some exciting stuff about research at Leeds. Uh, and you know, a few years ago that tended to be outputs and who would successfully got a million pound grant, etcetera, et cetera, And you kind of go, Hmm. Now there's a lot more stories and it's probably about 50 50 in terms of what have people done with those outputs to, to make a change or what are, you know, what kind of changes have emerged from that 1 million pound project for stakeholders, et cetera. So I think we, uh, I think we've started to do that better in terms of, you know, valuing people. Uh, and it does take effort to engage with impacts of valuing people's effort, cuz it, it's higher risk than research.

You know, if you think it's hard to get a publication, it's 10 times harder to get impact.


So you could be mistaken for thinking we've got it all tied up. We know we don't. Um, and you've talked about having that impact culture, so having those open collaborative discussions, what do you think or what are going be your priorities for the years ahead to drive this forward?


So I think, I think there's often the usual barriers that. Lots of academics talk about in terms of all sorts of spaces, not just impacts or time. Um, time is often what, what people complain about in all sorts of ways in, in academia. You know, it's highly pressured these days and I think, I think as an institution, we need to do more in terms of enabling time.

Uh, so just interestingly, um, people on BIM, one of the key things that comes through the evaluation of that is just go, it, it's given me the license to actually spend time thinking about that rather than, you know, rushing to get some marking done or, you know, whatever is, you know, whatever is the thing that's really important to get done by tomorrow.

Um, so I think time and, you know, creating, uh, creating all sorts of opportunities for people to help, you know, help them prioritize the, that thing. And I don't mean a thing that isn't important to them, prioritize a thing that is important to them. So, so we need to do some more work around that. And that's, that will always be the case.

Always. You know, we'll never solve that. I think one thing that we've, we've started to move on is, is just a bit more, um, internal resource. And I mean, I mean, both expertise and sharing that expertise as well as financial resource to enable impact activities. So we're doing, we're doing better in that space, I think.

But there's still more I think we should do in terms of it being easy to get that, especially the financial resource, you know, putting an application form in the way. Is another one of the ways to annoy people, and, and for them to kind of feel that there's another barrier on their journey. You know, we've got to, we got to do what we can to remove as many barriers as possible.

Um, so for instance, in the impact awards, we're not requiring, uh, people to report on what they did. In a formal sense, you know, please give us a, a report and please update that, you know, monthly or whatever through the 12 months of the, of the funding period. We're just saying to people, we're gonna get in touch with you, and if you've got a story to tell, tell us.

Uh, and if we can help, we will, especially on that story. So we're getting both, um, they we're getting kind of information in terms of reporting and they're getting the support. If there's a, if there's a thing that needs to be talked about, barrier that needs to be got across. Um, so they feel supported, not just, not just monitored.



Oh, and Ged, just like that we are up to time. So I want to thank Dr. Ged Hall, our arch mage of impact for joining us today, uh, to give us his insights on what we're doing well as an institution and also where we need to continue to work. I'm now going to leave the last bit of this episode to Ged so that he can tell you the listeners what you can expect when he goes on to hold his season of his own, and I'm hoping there's pies in there.


Well, I'll try to get pies, that's a good, if somebody throws me a problem I often try and think of a solution. You know, that's one of the reasons why I do what I do. Um, so I'll try and get pies in there. But interestingly, I was, in terms of the season itself, I'm kind of start.

Aiming to start that off with kind of a sort of slightly philosophical, you know, what, what difference has the impact agenda within the UK meant to research culture over the last 15 years? You know, both positives and negatives. You know, I, I recognize that. You know, there's had, it's, in some senses, it's had negative effects in my entire, how people feeling, you know, disadvantaged, uh, by its, uh, by its growth and importance.

So, you know, I want to talk about that and I want to open that up, that conversation. Um, I also want to kind of talk with people who are pursuing impact. You know, talk about their rationale for it, why, you know, what's their motivation for it? Um, and I don't want to, don't want that just to be success stories.

I want to hear about the, the things that didn't work as well as the things that did, because. Um, we, reflection is about learning from all of those experiences. Um, so I want, I want to kind of open that up and I think that would be useful in terms of just the wider research culture or we, we see positive, uh, results published.

We don't see negatives, for instance. And I think that's, uh, that's something that, that is a, uh, that is, that needs to change about our culture. So that's my part of that in terms of it being both. Positives and negatives, what we learned from all of those situations that might be useful to others pursuing something similar.


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