Issues to be considered when designing a policy to measure university research impacts

The Australian government this year will pilot new ways to measure the impact of university research.

As recommended by the Watt Review, the Engagement and Impact Assessment will encourage universities to ensure academic research produces wider economic and social benefits.

This fits into the National Innovation and Science Agenda, in which Australian taxpayer funds are targeted at research that will have a beneficial future impact on society.

This policy is the subject of an article published on the Sciblogs guest blog (here).

The authors are Andrew Gunn, Researcher in Higher Education Policy, University of Leeds and Michael Mintrom, Professor of Public Sector Management, Monash University

Their article was originally published on The Conversation. The original article can be found here 

The questions they address are –

1. What should be the object of measurement?

2. What should be the timeframe?

3. Who should be the assessors?

4. What about controversial impacts?

5. When should impact evaluation occur?

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One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Julian Heyes on January 16, 2017 at 12:05 pm

    I really struggle with any Government’s legitimate desire to find new ways to measure impact: either of education or of research. I fully acknowledge that we live in an age where ‘Trust us, we know what we are doing’ is not acceptable as a response. But while there are so many stories of significant agricultural research advances that have significantly improved the nation’s economy or revolutionised work practices (e.g. breeding a gold kiwifruit, or inventing an electric fence), often the outcomes of research are small advances of limited impact: but at least they allowed a business to remain globally competitive or opened up a new market for specialist products and were ‘fit for purpose’ outcomes appropriate to the cost of the research.
    Spare a thought then for disciplines such as astronomy or plate tectonics: we desperately need a society that values their research but measurable ‘outcomes’ within even a 20 year timeframe of doing the research may be very hard to demonstrate.
    And we can all tell tales of patents that have earned billions, but the original filing of the patent was for an application in a totally different field than the one it ended up servicing; so should we not label the original research that created the patent ‘misdirected’?
    I therefore favour the portfolio approach: Governments stay at arms length from research but periodically ask institutions to tell good news stories of the impact of specific projects, which more than pay for the vast majority of work that does not have such clearly identifiable beneficial outcomes.
    There is a social good that comes from having a large number of smart people working on smart ideas and training up more smart people to take considered risks as they explore new ideas. Not all of this flurry of activity will generate project-specific outcomes; but society is better off for having this activity in the first place.

    Reply

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