Judge us on 'accessibility', say social policy experts

August 4, 2006

Researchers in social policy have sent a clear message to referees of the 2008 research assessment exercise that their work should be judged primarily on how accessible it is, not on which journal it is published in.

The feelings of those who work in the field have been uncovered in the first study of how to define the quality of social policy research, unveiled at last month's Social Policy Association's annual conference.

Panellists in the 2001 RAE complained of a lack of clear and explicit criteria to determine the quality of social policy research.

Researchers surveyed 251 academics, held six discussion groups with 26 participants and carried out 28 telephone interviews.

Most respondents (82.9 per cent) said research written in a way that made it accessible to appropriate audiences was the most important indicator of quality.

This was closely followed by designing research to address research questions clearly (cited by 82.5 per cent).

Transparent collection and analysis of data was cited by 78.8 per cent of respondents as very important.

Saul Becker, chair of the association, said: "We had the 2008 RAE partly in mind. (Social policy) is a very applied discipline and it's about making a contribution to policy processes as well as to knowledge and theory. A lot of people do work that informs and influences government and other policy.

Unless it's understood by policy-makers, it's not going to be very effective."

Where research is published - either in journals or as book chapters - was the least important factor in assessing quality, respondents said.

The survey's findings could be used either to develop a checklist for deciding research quality or to sensitise people to what constituted research quality so they could use it as a mental checklist when going through texts, he added.

Peter Taylor-Gooby, chair of the social policy sub-panel, said: "It's useful but we've always had the core criteria of originality, significance and rigour, and people are quite happy with those. We face very substantial diversity in our area in ways in which knowledge is generated and used."

Register to continue

Why register?

  • Registration is free and only takes a moment
  • Once registered, you can read 3 articles a month
  • Sign up for our newsletter
Please Login or Register to read this article.