'Measure it and don't be afraid'

September 18, 2008

Numerically measuring the impact that humanities and social-science research has on public policy, the economy and society is essential to ensuring that the research is not undervalued.

This is the conclusion of a report by the London School of Economics' public policy group, Maximizing the Social, Policy and Economic Impacts of Research in the Humanities and Social Sciences.

The report is a result of a six-month project that included interviews with more than 100 senior people from business, government, civil society and social- sciences organisations along with an e-survey of more than 450 academics.

It calls for an "agreed common framework of measures" for calculating impact.

Lead author Patrick Dunleavy, a professor of political science at the LSE, said: "There are these people who tend to be deniers who say 'let's not measure (impact), it is all imponderable, it is all intangible' ... (but) we don't think that is right."

"Our research shows there is a huge amount of value added (by humanities and social-science research) that is not being measured ... Because it is under-recorded it is undervalued. Better recording is a way to (leverage) more money ... Measure it and don't be afraid."

He said no single numerical indicator was perfect but a range of indicators, including citation counts, could be used.

Keith O'Nions, the former director-general of science and innovation at the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, said he had not seen the LSE's report or the British Academy's, and would not comment on them. But he said: "Where metrics do capture the performance you are looking for, there is great value in using them."

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