Social scientists too busy with RAE to steer policy

July 3, 2008

The research assessment exercise has prevented social scientists from influencing public policy and from transferring their knowledge to the general public.

This is the conclusion of a joint report from the Academy of Social Sciences and the Economic and Social Research Council.

It claims that academics have been so tied up in pursuing ratings under the RAE that they have been unable to commit time and energy for other important elements of their work.

"The RAE has had the effect of downgrading the value perceived by many social scientists of public-policy advice, knowledge transfer and public engagement," the report says.

Rita Gardner, director of the Royal Geographical Society, said: "Historically, the RAE has had a negative impact on knowledge exchange, but we can't use it as an excuse not to engage with the wider world. These are encouraging times for engaging beyond the academy; research councils and others currently offer a plethora of grants and support to assist knowledge exchange."

The report also found that only a third of the learned societies saw knowledge transfer as their principal role and another third said that they did not have the capacity to help promote the social sciences publicly.

Although the societies have access to expertise and practitioners, they have a low profile outside academe and are not always aware of the opportunities to contribute to debate about public affairs, according to the report.

Marian Barnes, director of the Health and Social Policy Research Centre at the University of Brighton, said it was wrong to rely too heavily on the learned societies to improve the public's understanding of the social sciences.

"For me, improvements will come from the way in which researchers and other academics work directly with different publics to explore and communicate ideas," she said.

"One could argue that relying on learned societies sets up yet another barrier rather than facilitating communication."

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