New metrics could measure ‘research endeavour’

Hefce head of research policy suggests the way research is conducted should be measured too

July 9, 2015
Man measuring bar graphs with tape measure

New measures that look at the “process of research” will help make the use of metrics to assess performance more responsible.

This is the opinion of Steven Hill, head of research policy at the Higher Education Funding Council for England, who said that what happens between the inputs and outputs of research reveals how metrics impact culture in universities.

Measures covering the research process could look at how individuals contribute to the “overall research endeavour” such as their involvement with peer review, the running of learned societies, and sharing data, and could be included in future assessment exercises, he added.

Mr Hill was speaking at the launch of Hefce’s The Metric Tide report, which looks at the role of metrics in research assessment and management.

“Most of the metrics that we think about in terms of assessing research performance and management either focus on the inputs or the outputs,” he said. What happens between the inputs and outputs is rarely looked at, even though this “is where a lot of the crucial issues around the impact on using measurement on cultures within organisations actually happen”, he said.

“If we want to be responsible about how we use metrics we need to look at metrics in the processes of research...We need to look at how research is conducted,” he added.

This could include how, whether and in what ways data are shared, the extent to which researchers are collaborating or contributions to wider research infrastructure such as organising conferences, he added.

All these things are important in delivering the overall research endeavour in an “equitable and efficient way” and not just furthering an individual’s own research projects, he said.

Mr Hill added that the funding councils now have “clear and evidence-based recommendations” on how metrics can be used in future research assessment exercises. He said that they were now in “listening mode” and the key issues about any future assessments would be “up for debate”.

Feedback from panel members of the recent research excellence framework suggested that the data submitted to the environment section of the assessment could be richer.  

“More structure in the environment section and picking up some of these points around process and the way in which units operate to deliver the research outcomes that they deliver will be an important part of that,” he said.

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