Event Name What is impact in the social sciences – a discussion
Start Date 24th Jan 2020 3:00pm
End Date 24th Jan 2020 5:00pm
Duration 2 hours

Abstract: Academics are increasingly required to demonstrate their impact on the world outside academia. The inclusion of impact as an assessment category in the 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF) in the UK marked the first time that the work of academics was going to be assessed on criteria beyond research environment and excellence as measured by peer review. The inclusion of impact in the REF was greeted with scepticism by academics who highlighted the difficulties in defining, measuring and attributing impact (see Martin 2011). Aside from concerns over the increasing managerialism within academia, sentiments such as that  “in public policy making, many suppliers and users of social science research are dissatisfied, the former because they are not listened to, the latter because they do not hear much they want to listen to” rings true still today (original quote from Lindblom and Cohen 1979; 1).

The aim of this talk is to critically compare and contextualise the dimensions of impact within the social sciences. Based on analysis of 100 case studies from Social Policy, Sociology, Criminology, Social Work and Politics and International Relations as well as interviews with Social Policy scholars, I would like to make the argument that the Impact Case Studies in the REF2014 contain many examples of impressive impact across the social sciences. Said impact is usually based on high quality and longstanding programmes of research but also on sustained engagement of academics with policy-makers. There are clear differences between the disciplines in terms of the nature and reach of impact as well as the composition of academics. However, while it can be argued that the social sciences as a whole and Social Policy in particular have performed very well and possibly exceeded expectations, it is worth keeping in mind that impact in the REF is based on a particular, arguable artificial definition and timepoints. The reflections of academics looking back over the impact across the span of their career suggest both caution in terms of the fluctuation political contexts for impact but also show the limited ambition of impact in the REF.

Tina Haux is a Senior Lecturer in Quantitative Social Policy at the University of Kent. Her current research interests are lone parents and social security, parenting post-separation, and the link between research and policy-making. Among other things, Tina is a member of the ESRC Grant Funding Panel, a Ministry of Justice Expert Panel, the Families, Relationships and Societies editorial board and has just finished running the Qstep programme at Kent.