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  • Author or Editor: Richard Watermeyer x
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Controversies, Consequences and Challenges

Measuring research impact and engagement is a much debated topic in the UK and internationally. This book is the first to provide a critical review of the research impact agenda, situating it within international efforts to improve research utilisation. Using empirical data, it discusses research impact tools and processes for key groups such as academics, research funders, ‘knowledge brokers’ and research users, and considers the challenges and consequences of incentivising and rewarding particular articulations of research impact.

It draws on wide ranging qualitative data, combined with theories about the science-policy interplay and audit regimes to suggest ways to improve research impact.

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This chapter builds on the debates presented in chapters 1 and 2, providing a more in-depth assessment of critiques of the research impact agenda. This includes concerns expressed in the Stern review and debates regarding the possibility of applying ‘metrics’ to impact. It then considers how the impact agenda has been defended and amended in the context of these critiques.

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This chapter widens the focus of the book to explore whether there appear to be any disciplinary patterns amongst perspectives on, and experiences of, research impact in UK academia. This chapter includes an analysis of whether published perspectives on the impact agenda appear to vary by discipline (as predicted by Nowotny et al, 2001), informed by new focus group and interview data conducted for this book.

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This chapter considers how the concept of ‘research impact’ has been developed and articulated with respect to two, potentially very different audiences: policymakers and the broader public. This chapter includes an analysis of recent REF (Research Excellence Framework) and research funder guidance, statements and opportunities relating to these two groups. This chapter also draws on interview data with a range of research funders

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This chapter uses six in-depth interviews with high profile academics in a range of countries that have an interest in the notion of research impact: Australia, Canada, the UK and the US. Three of our interviewees are what we term ‘public intellectuals’, while the other three, each of whom works at the intersection of research and policy, we term ‘academic interlocutors’. These perspectives allow us to consider how academics working within and beyond the UK, with some contrasting views about external engagement, view notions of ‘public intellectualism’, ‘relevance’ and ‘impact’.

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This chapter focuses on academics working in university-based groups that have been charged with, and funded to achieve, knowledge translation and research impact. These are, we suggest, academics working at the vanguard of the impact agenda, who we might consider as experimental subjects from whom we can learn. This chapter includes a summary of the types of knowledge brokerage roles and organisations that have been created in the UK and the perceived and stated rationales for these new roles and organisations, and an analysis of interview data providing insights into the perspectives of academics working within two such groups.

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This chapter takes a more historical approach, using public health as a case study to explore how views of efforts to stimulate and reward research impact have changed over time. To achieve this, the chapter compares the views of academics interviewed in 2003-2007, the run up to the RAE in 2008, just before the emergence of ‘research impact’, with the views of academics working in the same field in 2011-2015, who experienced REF2014 and the first attempt to assess impact case studies.

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In this chapter we turn our attention to those charged with the task of judging the 'reach' and 'significance' of impact claimed by academic researchers in narrative case studies in REF2014. Knowledge pertaining to how the societal and economic impact of scientific research is evaluated is sparse. This is especially true in the context of the UK's national system of research assessment, the Research Excellence Framework (REF), in light of the confidentiality and rules of non-disclosure enforced by Research England and the UK Research & Innovation (previously the Higher Education Funding Council for England - HEFCE).

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This chapter seeks to apply the critical perspectives of the previous chapters to provide some pragmatic and practical suggestions for redeveloping the UK research impact agenda. To do this, the chapter summarises the key concerns about, and support for, research impact identified in the book and situates these findings in the context of existing literature/debates. It then draws on suggestions from each of the book’s five authors to outline alternative potential approaches to incentivising, monitoring and rewarding research impact, informed by the ideas evident in their respective research and subject areas.

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This chapter briefly explains what we mean by ‘the impact agenda’ and what the UK approach to research impact assessment involves. This chapter also makes the case for why an empirical investigation of the recent changes associated with research impact assessment is required and provides key definitions and an overview of the rest of the book.

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