The Hidden Impact: a Reflection on the Importance of Research


Professor Andy Penaluna is the Director of the International Institute for Creative Entrepreneurship at University of Wales Trinity Saint David. He also has experience working for the UK Government, the United Nations and the OECD on related policy making. Here, he discusses his successful career in the field of Entrepreneurship and reflects on how his research has made a difference.  

How have I made an impact? It is a question I am often asked, yet have not often given it the thought or, perhaps, the reflection it deserves. As I sit here looking at some the academic papers I’ve written, conference presentations made and policy interventions I’ve been directly involved with, I delve into the difference my work has made and how the research I have been part of has helped to shape and change our education communities.

My areas of expertise relate to Enterprise and Entrepreneurship, which has received quite an agenda hike of late. I first joined this community as the Chair of the Higher Education Academy’s Special Interest Group in 2007, and by 2011 was elected to lead Enterprise Educators UK, a body that 100+ Higher Educational Institutions are now part of. Later that year I found myself challenging the UK Quality Assurance Agency on their level of support and, before I knew it, was invited to form a group of experts to devise new UK-wide Guidance. This was released in 2012, and led to a ‘snowball rolling down the hill’ effect that I had never imagined.

Some highlights include having the UN’s Chief of Entrepreneurship join me as my research student for a sabbatical year, becoming the most cited researcher in a European Joint Research Centre inquiry into leading thought in entrepreneurial education and contributing to policy developments in Welsh and UK Governments. A paper authored with a few colleagues for the All Party Parliamentary Group for Micro Businesses, An Education System fit for an Entrepreneur, had a first look at joining the dots of all levels of education and led to recognition by one British Prime Minister. The work with QAA also led to support from the current Prime Minister. I’m currently on a second project with the OECD and recently helped to develop teacher training methods in 8 South East European countries, most notably leading the development of the world’s first progressively monitored compulsory enterprise education for schools, funded by the World Bank.

This type of policy experiment has led to engagement in a number of EU initiatives, most notably in the development of the new pan-Europe framework EntreComp, a ‘de facto’ guide for all member states. Going full circle, this now features in the new 2018 updated QAA Guidance for Enterprise and Entrepreneurship.

So what of the research I have contributed to, and what does it mean? Some titles such as Claiming the Future of Enterprise Education, co-authored with Colin Jones and my wife Kathryn Penaluna, have an obvious message, as does another joint paper Enterprise Education needs enterprising educators. Others however, challenge existing norms and propose new ways forward. For example, Creativity based assessment and neural understandings links my past life as a designer with assessment strategies being called for in entrepreneurial education. It also crosses traditional silos of academia by engaging with an expert in Occupational Therapy for those with brain trauma or stroke. Assessing Creativity: drawing from the experience of the UK’s creative design educators is another example of this boundary crossing that appears to have had impact.

When first wondering about how to approach QAA back in 2011, I had two options: work with business schools, or look wider and employ the types of thinking I advocated in these papers. I chose the latter, read every single subject guidance document from QAA and drew up a plan based on the expertise already available. For example, decision-making in stressful situations could be found in Medicine, working in ambiguous and incomplete evidence contexts could be found in the Classics and persuasion techniques within Performing Arts. Creating value for others was of course in my major discipline of Design.

In January 2018 and once again with the support of an incredibly competent team, all of this has manifested itself in a new version of the QAA’s guidance on Enterprise and Entrepreneurship. We have responded to a year-long consultation with reinforced definitions, alignment with employability, alignment with the sustainability agenda and alignment with the supportive environment that Universities need to consider. Due to significant interest from China, who translated the 2012 version, a Mandarin version was released simultaneously. Who knows where this next version may take us, as it has already been highlighted by the European Commission as a useful way forward.

So what have I learned? As a researcher, I have learned that presenting research to policy makers is a skill in itself, and becoming well read, when used in conjunction with well-developed communication skills, can be very impactful indeed. To this I owe my training as designer, who sees wider and beyond silos, make connections that others may have missed and produces a narrative that makes sense to different stakeholders.

Read more about Real World Impact and the difference research can make here: http://www.emeraldgrouppublishing.com/realworldimpact.htm

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