The RSD Framework, Research Capabilities and Research Competencies

Post by Dr Keith Morrison, The University of the South Pacific

I am interested in critically exploring the potential linkages that can be developed between the highest levels of the RSD framework developed by Willison & O’Regan (2008) and the distinction between research competences and capabilities developed by Scott, Coates & Anderson (2008).

I wish to suggest that the Willison & O’Regan RSD framework deals predominantly with what Scott, Coates & Anderson terms research competencies. I wish to suggest also that the RSD framework does nevertheless lend itself to being extended to also cover research capabilities, but that this occurs when the application of research is also focused upon, rather than only the teaching and learning of it. Because of this I also wish to suggest that a focus on research capabilities is what is most appropriate when graduate attributes are considered. Finally therefore I suggest that the RSD framework as it stands at the moment is weak in being able to enable the developing of a full range graduate attributes.

In particular I wish to suggest that interdependence is as necessary a feature of developing research skill as independence. In particular, the notion of emotional intelligence needed in the workplace for any purpose is an essential graduate attribute. Even though the affective domain is referred to in the RSD framework, the need to see this as interpersonal and involving recognition of interdependence in research is not developed. This therefore also has quite a strong bearing on the validity of the RSD framework to refer to the role of culture and community support. Also it raises questions as to its efficacy in facilitating self-regulated learning.

I would like to suggest however that the inter-personal capabilities and meta-cognitive capabilities of mindfulness or spirituality facilitated by cultural traditions are not contradicted by the RSD framework, but are in need of being explicitly articulated. To do so however probably requires moving beyond the current matrix structure of representation of the RSD framework.

Pictorial representation of the Research Capabilities and Competencies framework by Scott, Coates & Anderson (2008) is given on page 18 of the article at the link


Scott, G., Coates, H. & Anderson, M. (2008) Learning leaders in time of Change: Academic Leadership Capabilities for Australian Higher Education. Sydney: University of Western Sydney and Australian Council for Educational. Accessed from

Willison, J. & O’Regan, K. (2008). The Researcher Skill Development Framework. Accessed from

Author: heenalalrsd

Research Skills Development Coordinator at The University of the South Pacific

4 thoughts on “The RSD Framework, Research Capabilities and Research Competencies”

  1. Dr. Keith I find your comment very valuable. It made me go through Scott, Coates and Anderson’s findings and I appreciate the way they differentiated and defined competencies and capabilities.

    I believe RSD framework is a very comprehensive one that demonstrates the research skill development with different facets and levels. I do agree that graduate attributes may not be that explicitly visible in the framework but they do exist in there. Regarding the significance of emotional intelligence, I would say that it is a trait the presence of which contributes to our success in every field that we are working in involving human interactions. I feel half cured when my physician listens to me carefully, talks to me in a nice and polite manner, shows that he/she has understood my health issues, discusses and explains the causes to me and finally suggests the possible treatments. Does every physician do that? My experience shows that all physicians are not like this but a few. I believe I feel like going to these physicians and choose not to go to others because I find them emotionally intelligent in the ways they interact and treat all their patients/clients. Emotional intelligence is an important ingredient for intra and inter-personal communication. Its significance cannot be ignored and is equally important in research as well as RSD framework. I am only thinking how many things can we possibly mention in an explicit manner in a framework? Won’t that make it too complex?

    1. Thanks for the post Keith- very thought provoking.

      I was thinking about this complexity, too Fizza. My favourite reviewer comment on an RSD article was ‘… and when I got down to the framework itself, it was only one page’! When Kerry O’Regan and I started work on what became the RSD, we used the whiteboard in my room to draw up the first versions- it was always the mandate that the final version would be like that- to be seen in one look ie not turn pages. And this has always seemed important- sufficiently simple to fit on one page- even if it had layers of complexity under it. So, this means that only some things are emphasised. The team that came from USP in 2011 beautifully articulated the connections between the RSD and USP graduate attributes, but as you say Keith, these were more implicit than explicit.

      However, when it comes to the affective domain, thats not the case. I felt very keenly the failing of the Taxonomy of Educational Objectives Handbook II: Affective Domain- it seems to me that the absolute delineation of the affective domain was somehow counterproductive- people wanted to measure and assess affect in the 1970s to 1990’s in Australia. But assessing affect is best done very carefully when really necessary (eg student doctors’ and nurses’ interactions with patients) and needs to be well done or not at all.

      That’s why the ‘affective domain’ of the RSD is left simple, aiming for single-word provocations that complement the cognitive domain, rather than full descriptions.

      Still, Keith, as you work on ‘moving beyond the current matrix structure of representation of the RSD’ I’d love to see what emerges, especially to do full justice to ‘the inter-personal capabilities and meta-cognitive capabilities of mindfulness or spirituality facilitated by cultural traditions’. This could end up being the first version of an RSD for Uni South Pacific!

  2. To be sure the RSD framework is a comprehensive research competence foundation. I am an enthusiastic supporter. I found however, even when trying to communicate it and to implement it in my PG courses at the University of the South Pacific (USP), that I needed to frame it differently so that the way research is critically developed and applied as a collective activity was more visible. In particular, the importance of inter-personal relations and community and ecological interdependence needed to be made explicit by adding a different model. I have been interested to find that others have also found it helpful to construct further complementary models, for example the ‘pentagon’ framework developed to apply the RSD matrix to problem solving in the engineering field.

    For us at the USP where our mission is for sustainability, we are faced with addressing issues of social and ecological injustice in our development and application of research. Therefore critical pedagogy is needed to explicitly address how to transform social structures, including, or especially, research implementation agencies. This means that critical awareness of the inter-personal and interdependence aspects of research capability is essential. To be able to communicate this has required me to add other models to the RSD matrix model.

    I do not find this in anyway problematic. Indeed I do not know of anyone who considers that any model is complete. Pluralism in models and methodologies is I believe the accepted norm, and preferable to trying to make any particular model ‘do it all’. I agree, to try to extend the RSD matrix would be counter-productive as it would make it too complicated. This does not mean however that the RSD matrix model is adequate for everything… other models are required I believe to complement it when considering how to facilitate research skill, competence and capability in its social, institutional, cultural and political setting.

    I do not believe that this in anyway diminishes the work and role of the RSD matrix. Its role as a comprehensive foundation for research competencies remains for me. This role remains very helpful for us at USP as it allows us to later also put the need for further development of research capabilities, in all of its critical dimension, onto the agenda. Without a comprehensive foundation, a strong building able to critically address social and ecological injustice is not possible.

  3. Need more time to learn and understand what actually the research based learning particularly the RSD framework can help me and other oversea students. My study on the international master students history of learning and perception on the RSD has helped me to understand the use of this research framework both research facets and student autonomy assessment. I strongly believe that the RSD will be a prospective research framework use in higher education learning as one of alternative solution in future. What research learning framework best helps and supports both students and teachers in working on university courses..

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