Best of all is when it gets used
Professor Kate Barclay from the Faculty of Arts and Social Science specialises in the social and political aspects of marine resource and coastal management. She has extensively researched issues relating to fisheries, aquaculture and marine conservation.
What research are you working on at the moment?
One of our current projects is looking at the social and economic contributions of seafood production to coastal and inland communities in Victoria. Like similar work we did in NSW, the stakeholders have been really engaged with this project. They helped set our questions, design the research, collect the data, given feedback on findings, and are helping with communications.
It’s the first time I’ve been involved in research with this level of engagement. As a researcher, you either pick your own project or sometimes you work with a funding body on the question. When the end users don’t set the questions, they’re often somewhat interested but never to this extent.
What research that you’ve done are you most proud of?
I’m proud of some of my work that has tackled tricky theoretical problems and gotten the results published. A few years ago I put a lot of thought into a paper about the role of consumers in the eco-label movement. Generally, we think that consumers’ wallets are the great driver of how these things operate, and the supply chain simply responds. But it certainly doesn’t work that way in seafood. Instead exposed brands and retailers push changes through their supply chains either to build their brand or manage risk where there’s a scandal. That was very satisfying work but I don’t know if it’s had much impact in the world.
Whereas I’ve been really proud of my recent work for different reasons. It’s very hard working with real live humans, each with their own interests. Problems happen that are quite difficult to deal with and there’s a sense of real satisfaction when you work it out and come through with strong relationships. But when you do, best of all is when the research gets used at the end. That’s what happened in NSW and our Victorian research is headed in the same direction.
How do you know a really good piece of research when you see it?
I guess one aspect of great research is that it’s unexpected or something you haven’t heard of before. Research that sheds a new light on a problem is always very exciting to see or read about.
Another feature is a project that works when you zoom in and zoom out – where it makes good sense in the big picture but is also very careful with the details. That’s an extremely difficult thing to do. Some research can be so buried in the detail but when you pull back it doesn’t mean much. Others are very broad brush and interesting, but then if you go closer you realise that not enough attention has been paid to the care in the checking, or the methodologies as good as they could be, or there are gaps in literature.
What’s some of the best research that you’ve heard about going on at UTS – across any field?
There’s so much fascinating work going on at UTS, in the fields of data science, climate change – and climate justice, uses for algae, all sorts of topics. One of the great projects that I heard about this year was run by Dr Federico Davila in the Institute of Sustainable Futures. He was doing a small contract research project on food systems for a Pacific regional organisation but then COVID-19 hit and he had to pivot quickly to do it online – which is not easy in Pacific where the internet connections aren’t great. They worked out some really engaging and practical ways to get the information that they needed and engage with the people they had to.
There’s a lot of other excellent stuff going on. Larissa Behrendt has some interesting work in the crossover of legal research and the documentary form, a really interesting and unusual mix of academic research and engagement. The WHO Collaboration Centre for Nursing Midwifery and Health Development also do great work on health services particularly in the Pacific.