Impact

The word of the day in UK academic research is “impact”, which means, roughly, research being noticed or making a difference outside “the academy”. (They don’t appear to count research-led teaching, which is the main way most of us have an “impact”. Nobody said this was all fair or logical). I object to the term “impact”; the image is very macho, very top-down, very important-scientist-saves-world-and-rest-of-us-look-on-in-awe, very inappropriate to subjects where human beings are studied. Still, it’s what we’re stuck with.The fashion in arts and humanities is to talk the even-more-horribly-named “impact agenda” (who invents these things?) down; and with many, many good reasons, mostly to do with the fact that we have as yet seen no good definitions of “impact”, its nature and its measurement, that would remotely do justice to the way research and its reception actually works.

I do not, however, have a problem with the idea that public servants ought to be able to give some kind of public account of the value of their work. And I have even less of a problem with the idea that my colleagues who give talks and write articles and offer advice for all sorts of “non-academic” groups should finally start getting some credit for this, rather than having to do it in their “free time” and feel vaguely guilty about not spending that time doing real academic work.

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