Research Impact Assessment – a measure whose time has come?

For those interested in the idea of evaluating the impact of research and the issues this raises, a recent article by Claire Donovan (ANU & Chair of the Technical Working Group on Research Impact for the RQF) published in 2008  in New Directions for Evaluation, is well worth a read. In this article, “The Australian Research Quality Framework: A live experiment in capturing the social, economic, environmental, and cultural returns of publicly funded research“, she discusses the development of  the RQF’s  impact rating scale. The Australians at that time planned to go beyond quantitative mechanisms measuring “investment from industry, commercialization, and  technology transfer”  to a broader definition of impact which included social, economic, environmental and cultural benefits. Donovan discusses the conflicting influences of government policy, keen to make academic research more business and industry focussed, with the concerns of academics to protect pure research.  The period in which impact is measured was one issue of concern. The benefit of pure research is not always quickly realised.

In the end, the change of government in Australia led to the RQF & the research impact element being dropped. However, David Sweeney of HEFCE was quoted in yesterday’s AUSTRALIAN: “There are some bits we’ve pinched,” he says. “You were doing impact explicitly. You chose not to (continue). I understand why because you have other ways of doing that. But in our environment we thought it was worth trying.”

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