9 June 2023

The global research system is in crisis. One way that we are seeing this unfold is in large-scale planned redundancies at our universities in Aotearoa New Zealand.

But the research system isn’t broken, it was built this way.

The design of the research system promotes individualism, hypercompetitiveness and productivism. The opportunity to succeed is not equally shared, and people who are structurally and socially advantaged tend to remain privileged in the system.

New research from an interdisciplinary team at Te Pūnaha Matatini states that we need systematic, collaborative and whole-of-community action to build a more just research system. This has just been published in Nature Human Behaviour.

Lead author Dr Aisling Rayne explains that “we need to build a research system which demonstrates a relational duty of care to all its participants — including those on the margins, in precarious positions and in support roles.”

“To be responsive to the critical challenges of our time, the global science community needs to travel forward in a shared and purposeful direction — one that moves us closer to a better, more just society,” say the authors.

“We challenge the science community to harness the processes of complexity with intent and urgency to build a science system that is prepared to address the complex global challenges in which we all have a stake.”

This challenge is fully supported by Te Pūnaha Matatini, the Aotearoa New Zealand Centre of Research Excellence for complex systems. “We at Te Pūnaha Matatini support systemic transformation of the science system, and the centering of collaborative and ethical research,” says Te Pūnaha Matatini Director, Associate Professor Cilla Wehi. “The kind of transformations outlined here will act to support researchers and grow the best possible work on the pressing problems of our time.”

“There’s a growing evidence base that shows that our current research system is unjust and unsustainable,” continues Aisling.

Proposed solutions such as diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives can have unintended consequences, because they don’t take into account the complexity of the research system.

We need to embrace this complexity to make lasting systemic change. This means being reflective about the changes we make to avoid unintended consequences, and engaging the entire research community in building the system anew.

Aisling concludes that “the review of the research, science and innovation system that the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment is currently undertaking through Te Ara Paerangi is an opportunity for Aotearoa New Zealand to lead the way in changing how research is done.”