Taking on society's big issues
Innovation Profile NUI GalwayThe economic and social changes of the recession present significant challenges in how Irish business and society responds and recovers in a globalised world. NUI Galway has been addressing many of these challenges for some time and has recently brought these research efforts together under the aegis of the Whitaker Institute for Innovation and Societal Change.
Inspired by legendary public servant Dr TK Whitaker, the institute aims to adopt an innovative, multidisciplinary and transformative approach to business and society at home and abroad.
“Irish society has been deeply impacted by domestic and international economic changes,” says institute director Dr James Cunningham. “An effective response to these economic and societal challenges requires a deeper understanding of business and society, new insights and approaches.
“Pursuing these insights is the core mission of the Whitaker Institute. Our research agenda recognises the areas where transformation is needed. The broad-based and multidisciplinary focused research on business performance, agility and governance, innovation, environment, gender, conflict and collective action, health and wellbeing will provide insights and propose innovative responses.”
The institute has more than 200 members, making it the largest critical mass of business and social science researchers in Ireland, with expertise across business, public policy, law, arts, social sciences and Celtic studies. NUI Galway’s long established Centre for Innovation and Structural Change (CISC) has been subsumed within the institute which builds on a decade of research excellence and policy-focused contributions supported by over €11 million in research funding.
Among the key aims of the institute is the promotion of a sustainable and inclusive society.
The institute houses 12 research clusters under six priority research themes including business performance, agility and governance; conflict and collective action; environment, development and sustainability; health and wellbeing; and innovation and structural change.
The Work Society and Governance research cluster aims to support and encourage research into social, cultural, political and economic issues relating to the world of work, society and governance. Topics include industrial relations, workplace resistance, employment engagement, identity and culture at work, workplace regulation, organisational governance, international business and society, workplace diversity, workers’ rights, trade unions and corporate social responsibility.
The cluster draws on research strengths across NUI Galway including management, sociology, political science, law, economics, psychology and health promotion, and supports and enables exchange of knowledge and ideas between members.
“We are interested in showing the world of work and organisations as more than just a management problem and to support the development of better, healthier, more fair workplaces,” says cluster leader Dr Kate Kenny.
A timely piece of research led by Dr Kenny involves the organisational culture in banking and how it makes it difficult for individuals to speak out. “For the past two years I have been speaking to whistle-blowers in the banking sector in Ireland, the UK, and the US who have been unsuccessful in being heard in their own workplaces and have had to go to the media. What I have found is that the most important and difficult change to make will be to the culture of the organisations themselves.”
The Creative, Liveable and Sustainable Communities cluster promotes research and public policies that focus on the importance of place, creativity and quality of life in cities, towns, and regions for people and the economy. Successful economies flourish in places with a creative, flexible, healthy, and innovative population and where cities and towns have a real sense of place and cultural distinctiveness.