Monday, 1 February 2016

Reflections on Academy of Social Science Impact Conference

In January 2016, Surinder Bangar and Daniel Froste attended the Academy of Social Sciences conference on the topicof “Impact and Implications: The Future of Research Excellence and the SocialSciences”. Daniel Froste is an MA student currently on placement in ScHARR, working with Bangar developing content for the impact toolkit.
The day began with Dame Janet Finch discussing “lessons from the 2014 REF” and argued, among other things, the importance of interdisciplinary research in social sciences for vibrant academic environments. This was followed by a breakout session where delegates discussed a variety of aspects of the REF and impact. This section was a good opportunity for academics and researchers from a variety of institutions to discuss their experiences of the REF and Bangar discussed ScHARR’s approach to impact in the REF.

After lunch, Jonathan Grant, Director of the Policy Institute at King’s College London discussed “The Impact of Impact”, which was particularly useful in the context of Bangar and Daniel’s impact toolkit work. He suggested how assessment of impact has led to a cultural change within higher education institutions, where academics are adopting a new focus on the potential impact of research. This was followed by Steven Hill, head of Research Policy at HEFCE who discussed “the future of the REF”. His talk implied great uncertainties about the future of the REF and while the future of impact appears integral to the REF, the means of assessment may change.

The final session involved a panel and discussion where four delegates discussed aspects of their work. This included Professor James Wilsdon, who has recently become Director of Policy, Impact and Engagement at the Faculty of Social Science at the University of Sheffield. Professor Wilsdon discussed, among other things, that the overburden of journal impact factors can have negative consequences. He also suggested that if the REF switched to a more metric orientated system for determining impact, that savings would be negligible.  The final speaker of the day was Ceridwen Roberts, senior research fellow from The University of Oxford who presented a more critical viewpoint of the impact assessing process in the REF, but concluded that the significance of impact is due to continue and Universities must continue to be aware of this.

One of the aspects of the day observed by Bangar, Daniel and other delegates were the lack of students and early career researchers. It has been argued that for impact to be embedded within research, a cultural shift needs to occur, something which I feel will be hindered if only senior researchers attend events like this.

On reflection, Daniel and Bangar felt that their attendance was worthwhile, as the event gave context to the national discussion on impact. There seemed to be a variety of approaches to impact, reflecting the multifaceted nature of impact. This variety of approaches has given Daniel more ideas about how the various understandings of impact needs to be reflected in the toolkit, in the hope that ScHARR researchers can be supported in their work.

Written by Daniel Froste, Research Impact Assistant, ScHARR, University of Sheffield

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