REF and a novel approach to research impact

Added by Stephane Goldstein on 01 April 2010 00:49

Last week, the Higher Education Funding Councils announced the outcome of the consultations on the Research Excellence Framework (REF), and set out some preliminary decisions on aspects of the design of the REF. However, the all-important issue of the assessment of research impact is still being considered and decisions in this area are not expected until later this year.

Nevertheless, it is already becoming apparent that steps will have to be taken to make the notion of  impact assessment more acceptable to those in the research community who are sceptical about its validity. In particular, it seems that a number of novel (and, it has to be said, imaginative) indicators are being considered, particularly with regards to success in setting out research in the public domain and influencing key audiences. For instance:

  • Getting science stories reported in mainstream media, where impact could be ‘scored’ more highly in popular outlets. Thus a journalistic article on research findings could carry more weight in the News of the World and especially in the Daily Mail than in, say, the Guardian or the Financial Times.
  • Similarly, an invitation to be interviewed about research findings on broadcast media could lead to a good impact assessment. This could be particularly marked for flagship programmes such as the Today Programme on BBC Radio 4, or Newsnight on BBC2. Creditable performances in handling questions from the likes of John Humphrys and Jeremy Paxman would provide added weight to the impact.
  • For humanities researchers, success in getting their books taken up by mass outlets such as WH Smith (especially, we might surmise, in shopping centres and airport departure lounges) could also add weight to the impact.

It is too early to speculate on the precise nature of such impact measures, but it is a safe bet that such a progressive and public-facing approach will curry favour with whichever government emerges from the forthcoming general election. Watch this space.

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