Impact has become a central part of the assessment criteria for academic worth. It has been adopted by many research funding bodies, and it is firmly embedded in the British Research Excellence Framework. However, a clear definition of impact remains elusive and guidance on how exactly to achieve it is often superficial.
This concise, informative book analyses impact across the social sciences. It draws on the analysis of the most highly ranked British impact case studies from the 2014 Research Excellence Framework, as well as fifteen interviews with senior academics, providing a longitudinal and critical framing of impact. The author concludes with valuable recommendations of how and when scholars can achieve impact.
This chapter focuses on lone parents, a group that, it argues, has represented a challenge for policy makers in the UK for three decades or so. It notes that under New Labour, the ‘lone parent problem’ is constructed primarily as one of benefit dependency and poverty, and the policy response is to get more lone parents into paid work through a mix of encouragement and compulsion. It demonstrates that the latter has intensified overtime, with the point at which lone parents’ receipt of out-of-work benefits becomes conditional on seeking work shifting from when their youngest child turns 16 (the situation prior to 2008), to when their youngest child turns seven (the situation at October 2010). It observes that the construction of lone parents as a social threat was a dominant perspective under the Thatcher and Major Conservative administrations, and it suggests that under the influence of The Centre for Social Justice and its problemisation of family breakdown in particular, this perspective is at risk of re-emerging.
The inclusion of research impact in the 2014 Research Excellence Framework in the UK (REF2014) was greeted with scepticism by the academic community, not least due to the challenges of defining and measuring the nature and significance of impact. A new analytical framework of the nature of impact is developed in this chapter and it distinguishes between policy creation, direction, discourse and practice. This framework is then applied to the top-ranked impact case studies in the REF2014 from the Social Work and Social Policy sub-panel and the ESRC Early Career Impact Prize Winners in order to assess impact across the life-course of academics.
The chapter sets out briefly the rise of the importance of impact and the difficulty in capturing, evaluating and attributing impact of academic work before locating the work within existing literature. The emphasis of this book is on capturing and understanding of impact in terms of nature scale and reach.
In this chapter the role of academic research in policy-making is being discussed with reference to the policy-making literature. It critically explores the question of whether and if so, what kind of influence academics and their work are able to have on policy-making and what factors facilitate or hinder such influence.
The empirical strategy for this book is set out in chapter three. It consists of two parts, namely the analysis of the most highly ranked impact case studies (based on the impact ranking of submitting units) from three sub-panels: Sociology, Social Policy and Social Work and Politics and International Relations. The second part consists of qualitative interviews with Professors of Social Policy, reflecting on impact and influence over their professional careers.
The nature of the underlying research of the selection of Impact Case Studies from the 2014 REF is being analysed and compared across disciplines. Guiding questions for the chapters are whether there is a pattern to the kind of research and researcher/s that are included in highly ranked case studies and whether this differs across the social science disciplines, e.g. comparing seniority, gender, funding and methodologies across the sub-panels.
In this chapter the nature and reach of impact is evaluated and compared across the three sub-panels based on a typology that distinguishes between the effects on policy-making (new policy invention, new direction or new ideas), on practitioners or whether the contribution is based on improved data and knowledge capture. In addition, concepts such as impact pathways and impact agents are being applied to the Impact Case studies of the 2014 REF.
Based on 16 interviews with Social Policy Professors on the impact and influence they have had (or not had) over their professional lifecourse, the chapter picks up on themes set out in chapter 2 about the feasibility of academics influencing policy-making and highlights the role of luck, (often international) collaboration, the role of mentors and a strong emphasis on epistemic communities.
Key themes coming out from the book are that there still seems to be a role for the academic as the expert on a topic over their role as producer of specific pieces or, even, programmes of research, both normative and technical. However, the most successful impact case studies in terms of submitting units are mainly from established universities and academics, frequently submitted by (male) lone scholars and void of national and international or interdisciplinary collaborations in the case studies. Finally, it is important to distinguish between impact agents and impact beneficiaries when assessing 2014 REF impact Case Studies in terms of their contribution to society. Impact agents are those able to make changes be it policy-makers or professionals. Impact beneficiaries are those whose lives are improved as a result of the changes, e.g. children in poverty, the elderly in need of care, prospective pensioners and voters. Therefore, it is not an overstatement to say that the contribution of academics as captured by the impact submissions analysed here has improved the lives of many people in the UK and around the world.