Presence, conversations and clocks

I occasionally hear academic peers say “what’s the point in doing research if it is not published in a 3 or 4 star journal?” and “we can only use 2 star research to underpin impact work”. These statements directly reference the way bureaucratic systems have metricised the evaluation of research; the metrics of an audit culture shape how we think, feel and act towards research (and of course other things which are not research).

I can understand these comments, as some universities do indeed recruit and promote using such notions even if they have signed up to the global movement to make the evaluation of research more holistic and meaningful such as DORA. This is also the case despite the reported destructive effects on researchers (and non-researchers), careers, and how it promotes gaming in the system.

Specifically, there is now evidence which suggests that interdisciplinary and applied research across disciplines in not as cited as much as other forms of research, despite such work contributing directly and unambiguously to practice. This work includes medical innovations and changes to the way governments or authorities operate.

Recent research has highlighted that there are three things which are helpful to remember when thinking about the impact of research – that it can be created through presence, through conversations, and can unfold over time, around the clock. Specifically:

  • Impact can be created through presence. When we undertake research with or within organisations, we know this can have an impact linked to The Hawthorn Effect; people may want to appear more efficient or effective, or they may simply have more opportunities – due to the arrangements of the research – to reflect on what the research topic is about in their localised context, or indeed, to start talking about it with others.
  • Impact can be created through conversations. The role of conversations in the workplace can be underestimated, as they can not only be central to how we share ideas and knowledge, but also ae a key route towards engagement and culture change. In essence, research which promotes conversations can drive awareness, reflection, creativity and change.
  • Impact can unfold over time, around the clock. Perhaps more significantly, the narrative about impact can substantially change over time. This is partly driven by the way we make sense of situations over time (we might understand it better or we might even forget), but some changes can only be articulated after-the-fact where a distinct before-after narrative can be articulated.

As we develop our understanding of the dynamics of impact, we can learn to utilise it to generate positive impacts in the world, rather than because we need a certain kind of output, in a certain outlet, within a certain time period, for a certain externally driven requirement.

This, at least for me, helps articulate why we should do research outside of the 3 and 4 star requirement; that it enables us to utilise our creative capacities towards our passions as morally and socially connected and engaged human beings, and collaborate in areas of mutual significance and meaning with others in practice. Hopefully for some, this might help us reorient more research work towards something we feel is more worthwhile.

Article Details

Tony Wall

Date Published:

October 8th, 2019


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