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Why Nurture Ideation in Digital Transformation Research?

Updated: Apr 6, 2023

By Caroline Khene

Are we just hopping onto the trend trail of ‘Digital Transformation’, or have we begun to see a real need to navigate the uncertainties that face the growing digital economy? Digital transformation was traditionally seen as an aspect that mainly influences the business sector – but this has grown to now mean many things for different sectors in society. With this reality, there remains so much more to define and understand in terms of what it means for different sectors and regions globally. The discipline of information systems, which traditionally serviced the business sector – has had to evolve to incorporate ‘other’ disciplines over the past decade. On the other hand, as a tutor in higher education, I have also observed how information systems modules have trickled or found their way into other subject disciplines or programmes – at times overwhelming students who are unfamiliar with the area. This brings to the forefront the need to understand how the digital economy now shapes many spheres in society – to the extent of transforming traditional processes and practices, but also the many uncertainties associated with the ethics by design, implementation, and integration in society. The space is certainly widening.

What have I observed in our field?

I began to start seeing the effect of the changing global economy, as student numbers in postgraduate programmes in computing continued to grow at record numbers (by 200% over a year in one university), highlighting the significance of demand for skill – not just for routine tasks, but the ability to be innovative in the uncertainties that underlie the digital economy. In research consulting, I have seen civil society organisations grow in valuing evidence-based data to advocate for change, but at the same time struggle in navigating how this could be effectively applied in their contexts. In the field of digital development (ICT4D), I have seen what may have seemed a good innovative idea at first, die a natural death as funding runs out or community capacity strengthening and stakeholder commitment ill-sustained or nurtured to support continuity of the initiative. I have also observed missed opportunities to engage with ethnic minority micro-businesses in the UK, because of the exclusionary designs of digital business platforms that do not accommodate the unique practices of these very business that contribute significantly to the UK economy.

Why do we continue to miss these opportunities?

In my reasoning, I consider the following –

  1. How are we nurturing independence in research and innovation among students and researchers from economies that need to themselves define what digital transformation means for them, and

  2. We need to understand and respond to the unique supervision, mentoring, and coaching needs of students/researchers to tailor a personalised approach that truly empowers them as emergent researchers?

In my experience working with a variety of students (all different in their own way); every single one has the potential to excel where they are willing to engage with their supervisor/mentor to discover that journey. However, the ability to engage does not come easily to many students/researchers, when seeking the most effective way to articulate and apply themselves in the research process. In addition to the support that many supervisors already diligently provide, some students may require personalised coaching and mentoring to reach a point where they can effectively engage with the discipline expertise of their supervisors and uncover new knowledge and contributions to their discipline.

So, what’s NurtureID8 all about?

It’s all in the words! We aim to ‘NURTURE’ people to ‘IDEATE’ (ID8) in the field of digital transformation. The idea of NurtureID8 started through a brainstorming session with a fellow researcher Dr Hafeni Mthoko. Although we reside in different continents, and have experienced working with researchers/students from different regions of the world, we came across the same issues they experienced along their research journeys. This experience cuts across their learning journey from applying for a Masters/PhD research programme and developing a proposal, developing a literature review, understanding the value of and applying theory, conducting empirical field research, to finally writing-up the thesis or dissertation, publishing key findings, and actioning research in practice. Over the years, the need for this support continues to grow, and with it the need for equity in the research development experience.

Equality vs Equity

Higher Education has attempted to apply equality in access to resources and mentors to support the research journey of students – and some good progress has been made. However, when it comes to EQUITY in access, we still have a long way to go – which has made it especially difficult for international/local students from LMIC countries. I started my academic career in South Africa, and was fortunate to be part of the Kresge Foundation academic development programme to support emerging academics. I joined the programme at a time when transformation and equity were a key agenda item for South African Higher Education Institutions (HEI) – post-apartheid. Did the programme work, in opening up opportunities for black and/or female academics? Yes, absolutely. Did it transform student populations and open up opportunities for students. Yes, it has made progress, but it was and still is not an easy evolving process.

I moved to the UK about 3 years ago, to explore my career in a different context (a blog post for another day). Arriving here, I came across a different set of challenges that international postgraduate students experience in their research journey. Having my background working in South Africa and empathy to support emergent researchers, I was eager to apply my pedagogic approaches here. However, I never imagined how much more challenging it was for international students navigating a different education and research system, and for academics trying their best to provide the support needed with limited resources. I observed this in teaching on Masters programmes, and coordinating a doctoral programme. Despite these challenges, I also met students enthusiastic about their research or coursework – but just needed the opportunity to be mentored on how best to articulate their ideas. There is a great need for a personalised 1-on-1 approach that provides the student with the space to grow academically, and personally as a researcher. We continue to learn how best we could do this, starting with Phase 1 of our initiative on Online Research Tutoring.

Where we are going…

We will continue to contribute to this blog and develop resources and discussions on YouTube which we will be sharing in the next couple of weeks. We hope researchers (potential, existing, and established) may join us in developing and sharing knowledge to open up the space in driving meaningful digital transformation in varied contexts.

If you would like to have a free chat about your research aspirations (as a research degree applicant, existing student, or research practitioner), and how you may need my support, book a 15 minute free call.

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