As you know from my column in our Fall 2014 newsletter, the ACCUTE office hopes to open up our blog somewhat, to tell more stories of the many people who together make up our association, our disciplines, and our professions. I happened to mention this hope during a recent conversation with the folks at the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences (the many-voiced collective of which ACCUTE is an important part), who are trying something similar with their blog. And so we’re discussing the occasional cross-posted piece, as a way of fostering various levels of discussion.
Hence today’s entry. As part of their outreach and lobbying efforts, the Federation has launched a new working paper on the use of metrics to study the social and scholarly impact of social sciences and humanities research. Seeing the push for metrics as an inevitability in the time of austerity, the Federation has decided to try to set its own guidelines (rather than have them set from “the outside”) by which the impact of our work will be judged. Their post on the issue (with links to the working paper) is reposted below, with their permission.
The Federation is asking for our input, and I want to reinforce that request. There will be some among you who see the Federation’s plan as necessary. Others will see this strategy as one that risks leaving some of our most vital research out in the cold. All of you should make your opinion known.
Where do I personally stand? For what it’s worth, I recognize the rock-and-a-hard-place, the betwixt-and-between that the Federation finds itself in–that we all find ourselves in. But I’ve always and loudly agreed with Algernon, in The Importance of Being Earnest, when he says that “More than half of modern culture depends on what one shouldn’t read.” What one should not read: taken on its own, how terrifying is that phrase? And yet saying that something should not be read is one possible effect of measuring its “value.” “What one should not read” is often decided by those who own all the measuring sticks.
When we spend our efforts weighing, when we focus our energies on measuring, sometimes all we do is ensure that we will all be found wanting. Surely we know the dangers of devaluing certain aspects of society and culture. Likewise, reading something so seemingly trivial as a cigarette case can sometimes be of vital–immeasurable?–importance.
But, that’s just one person’s opinion on what matters. Agree or not, the voices of the members of this association should be heard. Read the Federation’s piece, below, and start a conversation in the comments section here, on twitter, and send comments to the email addresses provided. Let’s get this conversation started. –Jason Haslam
Matthew McKean, Policy Analyst, Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences
The Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences has been hard at work on an ambitious research impact project. Our new working paper, entitled “The Impacts of Humanities and Social Science Research,” launches today at Concordia University in Montreal at the “Mobilizing Knowledge for Social Innovation” colloquium, organized by the Fonds de recherche du Québec, as part of the prestigious Entretiens Jacques Cartier.
Why, you ask, should we worry about defining research impact and why should we attempt to measure it? Because in this era of austerity budgets and increasing competition for federal research money, it’s imperative for the humanities and social science community to develop its ownresearch impact metrics and to demonstrate its value beyond the confines of the university. If we don’t, external parties will define our impact and value for us and, in the process, our work could become marginalized or subsumed in metrics that inaccurately reflect what we do.
But it’s also bigger than that. In a world that’s changing rapidly and growing more complicated as well as more inter-connected, it’s more important than ever for humanities and social science researchers to collaborate with non-academic partners and policy-makers to address the complex range of issues currently facing Canadians and the world. We hope the discussion about research impact metrics will help to expand the scope of scholarly research as well as bring people together to work towards common goals.
Research in the arts, humanities, and social sciences contributes to a free and democratic society; it affects our quality of life; and it leads to new knowledge. Research that generates new knowledge both inside and outside universities, that improves subsequent research, as well as influences the decisions that shape people’s lives, communities, governance, and the environment, can be defined as having impact.
Many in our community are still not convinced by the research impact agenda. But we intend to stay ahead of the movement and we expect that this initiative will generate a great deal of excitement. Above all, we hope it will help to galvanize humanities and social science researchers, and the universities that employ them, into finding new ways and incentives to mobilize their research and engage with students, fellow researchers, decision-makers, as well as local, national, and international communities.
The project was conceived and developed by an Interdisciplinary Advisory Committee of accomplished academics and researchers as well as consultations with stakeholders and individual researchers in the community. Together they identified existing international, cross-disciplinary metrics, devised new “baskets” of indicators, developed an overall framework for the project, and commissioned the research and writing of the report, which exists now as a living document on the Federation’s website.
Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you have questions, comments, or suggestions or if you’d like to collaborate. In the meantime, stay tuned for updates. Correspondence should be sent to: Matthew McKean (firstname.lastname@example.org) or to the Federation’s general mailbox (email@example.com).