UK funders order ‘short, sharp’ look at role of metrics in REF

Review to revisit conclusions of 2015’s The Metric Tide

May 17, 2022
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The UK’s main public research funders have commissioned a “short, sharp, evidence-informed look” at the current and potential uses of metrics in research management and assessment.

The announcement of the review comes a week after the publication the results of the 2021 Research Excellence Framework (REF), a sector-wide evaluation that relies heavily on peer review, and seven years after the last major look at the issue, 2015’s The Metric Tide, concluded that it was “not currently feasible to assess the quality of research outputs using quantitative indicators alone”.

The three-person panel for this review – dubbed “The Metric Tide Revisited”, includes two co-authors of the 2015 exercise: James Wilsdon, Digital Science professor of research policy at the University of Sheffield, and Stephen Curry, assistant provost for equality, diversity and inclusion at Imperial College London. They are joined by Elizabeth Gadd, research policy manager at Loughborough University and chair of the International Network of Research Management Societies’ research evaluation group.

The trio will work alongside a broader review of the REF, the Future Research Assessment Programme (FRAP), being chaired by Sir Peter Gluckman, New Zealand’s former chief science adviser.

The REF, held every seven years, is used to guide the distribution of quality-related research funding worth about £2 billion annually.

According to Research England, the new review will “revisit the conclusions and recommendations of…The Metric Tide, and assess progress against these”.

It will also “consider whether developments over recent years in the infrastructures, methodologies and uses of research metrics negate or change any of those 2015 conclusions or suggest additional priorities; look afresh at the role of metrics in any future Research Excellence Framework and consider whether design changes now under consideration as part of the FRAP suggest similar or different conclusions to those reached in 2015; [and] offer updated advice to UK Research and Innovation and the UK’s higher education funding bodies on the most effective ways of supporting and incentivising responsible research assessment and responsible uses of metrics”.

The review is expected to report by mid-September 2022.

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