Building a Network: the two key lessons we think you need to know

No-one needs to be told about the value of networks. The importance afforded to them in the Welsh higher education environment is clear from the emphasis in ‘cohesion’ and ‘collaboration’ in the Welsh Government’s tertiary education and research strategic vision.

For the past three years, the Learned Society of Wales has been developing is Early Career Researchers Network, which is part of our wider researcher development programme. The ECR Network emerged from a view that researchers in Wales at the start of their career would benefit from the opportunities to network with peers at a range of organisations that carry out research across Wales, including, but not exclusively, universities, irrespective of their subject specialism.

The success of the ECR Network has perhaps exceeded our expectations and is now a recognised feature of the Wales HE environment. This success contributed to the recent long-term partnership agreement we signed with HEFCW, which recognised how the Network was helping to deliver key Welsh strategic targets.

Tomorrow (18/06/24), the ECR Network will run its second colloquium, which brings together ECRs to present their work, participate in workshops and seminars and, of course, network. Around 100 people will attend the event, which takes place in Bangor and is titled ‘A Connected Wales’. This theme is two-pronged: the presentations and seminars all consider how Wales can draw its multiple strengths together to work in collaborative ways that benefit wider society. It also emphasises that connecting researchers across institutions and specialisms is critical to generating the imaginative solutions that we need in confronting 21st Century challenges.

So what are the two key lessons we’ve learnt in making the ECR Network grow to its current position of strength?

First, make sure the members of the network are involved in its decision-making processes. The seminars we hold throughout the year and the theme of the colloquium are all driven by the network’s members. It is almost a truism, but a bottom-up approach is essential in making sure that the network is relevant to the people it is designed to support.

Secondly, you cannot overstate the importance of having a central organising committee that is given a participatory, rather than purely advisory, role. In other words, make your committees active rather passive. Our committee is made of up ECRs and Fellows of the Learned Society of Wales. They have helped to develop the theme of the colloquium and their involvement creates the connections that is at the heart of the ECR Network.

A great deal else goes into the ECR Network, but having these two aspects in mind the whole time is, we believe, what has given it such impetus over a short period. It encourages researchers to step into a space of interdisciplinary and cross-institutional knowledge exchange. Using the collective strength of Welsh organisations is how we can develop future research leaders and increase research capacity in Wales.

If you are interested in finding out more about the ECR Network or the LSW’s researcher development programme, please don’t hesitate to drop us an email at researcherdevelopment@lsw.wales.ac.uk.

We’re always delighted to connect.