A longitudinal study of outcomes-based performance management at Newcastle University, England.

This page is about a Newcastle university research project run in 2016 to evaluate the effects of 'Raising the Bar' - an outcomes-based performance management system of governance launched at Newcastle University in 2015 and withdrawn, following disquiet and opposition across the university which culminated in industrial action, in June 2016.

The original research project involved Newcastle academics keeping diaries of their experiences of RTB. Data drawn from early stages of research was used in arguments against RTB which persuaded managers to withdraw it. Although RTB was formally withdrawn in June 2016, because of ongoing concerns about the future of the university participants agreed in summer 2016 to close the project to new participants but keep running their own diaries to record their experiences of the post-RTB landscape.

Whilst we are thus no longer recruiting new participants, we are keeping this website running to provide updated news on the project in the future. The original text launching this project is reproduced below:

Many universities across the world are experimenting with significant changes in managerial culture as senior managers orientate themselves to neoliberal policy environments. These are marked by the imperatives to generate income through research-indexed central funding, research grants, and student fees, and to position themselves favourably in a range of national and international league tables. University managers and some branches of management science present this shift to outcomes-based performance management (OBPM) as a value-neutral unavoidable necessity that can be implemented without changing the nature and purpose of scholarship and teaching by supporting staff to reach their full potential through raising and resourcing ambition (Boyne 2010, on public sector in general). In contrast, the critical scholarship suggests that OBPM is a coercive form of governance to discipline employees and fundamentally reconstitute the sense of what intellectual labour is. This literature argues that there is insufficient evidence to demonstrate that OBPM works in its own terms, but nonetheless its combination of what Bevan and Hood (2006) call 'targets' and 'terror' produces a whole range of unintended perverse consequences for the institution and for individual academics, as people 'game' the system but nonetheless suffer fear, stress and anxiety at the consequences of failure (Soss et al, 2011; Gill, 2010).

In 2014 Newcastle University's management accelerated its own journey down this pathway of "governance by targets and measured performance indicators" (Bevan and Hood, 518) through the so-called 'Raising-The-Bar' (RTB) agenda (see internal staff pages from the recently-established 'Corporate Affairs Directorate'). In the summer of 2015 this was fleshed out by a series of metrical 'expectations' for grant income, research publications, and PhD graduate completion rate - the so-called 'RIPE' (research and Innovation Performance Expectations) documents. This has proved hugely contentious within the Newcastle academic community and beyond (see Youtube or text version critiques of RTB by Dr Liz Morrish of Nottinhgham Trent Univeristy, invited by Newcastle branch of UCU), and the controversy has been covered in the pages of the Times Higher Educational Supplement.

The debate has led to the development of a research project to subject RTB to scholarly scrutiny. Grounded in the extensive literature on outcomes-based performance-management in the private and public sectors, this research is envisaged as a long-term, multi-disciplinary, qualitative and quantitative exploration of the development, impacts and consequences of RTB up to and beyond REF2020. The research project would ultimately seek to work collaboratively across the faculties and with outside partners in the UK and elsewhere. It is an independent scholarly examination of what is happening in our own institution, and would ultimately seek to work with both management/Universities UK and the University and College Union to see what lessons can be drawn for the wider sector from Newcastle's experiment. The full proposal as of February 2016 is available here - including an overview of the relevant academic literature.

Pilot diary completion project
To begin this work, a group of Newcastle academics have launched a diary exercise as a pilot project to record the impacts of the roll out of RTB. We would like academics from across the university to complete a retrospective reflections on your experience of RTB thus far (if you have time), and then, over the coming months, add new entries from time to time. These entries could range from frequent, extensive paragraphs of reflective prose to infrequent, informal jottings. Even if you only able to commit a tiny amount of time to this, your participation would still be valuable.

If you don't have time to complete a diary, there are other ways of recording your experiences and reflections. You could make audio/video recordings on your phone or other devices, and email them to me (Nick Megoran) sporadically. I would collate these under your name and transcribe them at a later stage. Or you could write emails and send them to me, and I'd process them in the same way.

Our intention with this pilot project is to build towards a 'sand-pit' event in autumn 2016 or winter 2017, when researchers from across the university come together to formulate a larger research project. We may link this to the collaborative production of a stage production about RTB/working at Newcastle University, performed for university and civic audiences, to facilitate discussion within and without the university on the changing nature of Newcastle University and how its experiences relate to those of people in other employment sectors in the city.

For more information on this, including important questions of research ethics and the security of those taking part, download the full research proposal here. Although we are no longer recruiting new participants, you can see the original covering invitation letter and instructions and blank diary form. This project completed Newcastle University ethical approval procedure and been designed in conversation with managers and (other) academics across the university.

Outside Newcastle?
If you are not a Newcastle academic but would like to follow the progress of the research please click here to be added to a distribution list. It would be helpful and useful for us to know of external interest. If you would like to offer more active support and input based on your own expertise and experiences, please contact Nick Megoran.

Advisory boards
To ensure that we conduct the best possible reserch with maximum reach, we have been kindly assisted by some of the UK's and world's leading scholars in the field:

UK advisory board
Sarah Amsler, School of Education, University of Lincoln.
Stefan Collini, Professor of Intellectual History and English Literature, Cambridge University.
Monica Franco-Santos, Cranfield School of Management
Rosalind Gill, Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis, City University London.
Liz Morrish, English, Culture and Media, Nottingham Trent University.
Marilyn Strathern, DBE, FBA, Professor of Anthropology, Girton College, Cambridge.
Rowan Williams, Master, Magdalene College, Cambridge.

International Advisory Board
Lawrence D. Berg, Professor of Critical Geography, The University of British Columbia, Canada.
Bronwyn Davies, Professorial Fellow, University of Melbourne, Australia.
Martha C. Nussbaum, Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics, Department of Philosophy and Law School, The University of Chicago, USA.
Eva Bendix Petersen, Professor of Higher Education, Roskilde University, Denmark.
Stephen Petrina, Professor, Institute for Critical Education Studies, University of British Columbia, Canada.
Arild Waeraas, Professor of Economics and Business, Norwegian University of Life Sciences, Norway.

Bevan, G. and Hood, C. (2006) 'What's measured is what matters: targets and gaming in the English public health system', Public Administration, 84(3), pp. 517-538.

Boyne, G. (2010) 'Performance management: Does it work? ', in Walker, R., Boyne, G. and Brewer, G. (eds.) Public Management and Performance: Research Directions. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Gill, R. (2010) 'Breaking the Silence: The Hidden Injuries of the Neoliberal University', in Ryan-Flood, R. (ed.) Secrecy and Silence in the Research Process: Feminist Reflections. London: Routledge, pp. 228-244.

Soss, J., Fording, R. and Schram, S. (2011) 'The organization of discipline: from performance management to perversity and punishment', Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 21(supplement 2), pp. i203-i232.