ABSTRACT Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) are knowledge-intensive organisations competing in the context of knowledge and research activities, as well as programmes and services offered. Research is integral to institutional competition to determine their status and standing and it underpins academics' responsibilities in developing intellectual skills and capacity of learners. Whilst universities adopt formalised approaches to developing research activities, there is a growing trend towards informal groupings or communities of practice (CoPs) where like-minded individuals seek to share common interests in particular research areas. These CoPs offer an alternative approach to developing research within HEIs, especially where efforts to improve faculty research have met with mixed success as there are no clear guidelines and relatively little is known about the mechanisms that facilitate research amongst academics. While there have been past research in various sectors on how CoPs benefit organisations, little has been focussed in the HE sector, in particular how it benefits individuals in terms of doing research and this forms the distinctiveness of this research. The aim is to illuminate, explore and gain insights of individuals' perceptions of the value and impact of CoP membership within research communities in HE and the potential impact on subsequent research. The CoP concept and the benefits identified in past research in general sectors serve as the focal framework of this research and other theories i.e. value, perception and HE, are included to support and ground further analysis in the overall study. This research takes the social constructionist standpoint, trying to understand individuals' experience of participating in these research communities, through the interpretive lens. It adopts the qualitative approach using observation and interviews (supplemented by storytelling and critical incident technique) to gather data which are then analysed using the narrative analysis approach paying attention to individuals' experience expressed through their stories and incidents. An analysis of data revealed that individuals found these research communities' membership valuable as it has helped and supported them in terms of doing research and have impacted them personally, professionally, intellectually and socially. Twenty perceived values have been discovered; twelve of which are supported by past organisational research, but mirrored also in HE i.e. autonomy and freedom to think beyond; sources to ideas; sounding board; intellectual discussion; like-mindedness; alternative perspective and cross pollination of ideas; informal ground for learning and training; networking, information sharing and updates; support and guidance; sense of belonging; identity; and intrinsic fulfilment. Although, there are some similarities in these twelve perceived values, they have benefited and impacted on individuals in their own way. The other eight perceived values i.e. overcoming intellectual isolation; move towards collaborative research; response to research pressure; synergy and leverage; time and energy saving; foster tangible returns; drive research; and opportunity to meet, have emerged from doing research in the HE sector and provide new insights not previously discussed. Thus, the contributions of this research are it has drawn on a wide range of literature put together in a unique way; it has extended the CoP concept by applying it to HE for the purpose of doing research; and further understanding on how individuals benefit from their membership, which was never conducted in such a way in past research. Above all, it has offered new insights and raised awareness of the values of research-based CoPs' membership to individuals and this adds to the research literature in CoP as well as the HE context.
|Publication status||Accepted/In press - 24 Oct 2006|