In UK scientific circles and the wider realm of academia impact has been around for a while now. Grant forms incorporate large blank spaces in which applicants are required to outline their plans for ensuring that the work they hope to do will have impact. In other words that it will make a difference, not just in economic terms (though that has often been seen as the major preoccupation), but also that it will contribute to our wider society, in terms of health or policy formulation or the understanding of science by our fellow citizens or any other way that you think may be worthy.
Impact is also going to feature in the Research Excellence Framework (REF), the mechanism by which the quality of the research done in UK universities will be assessed in future. This is very important because the REF score of your department will have a big impact — no pun intended (this is a serious business) — on the funds allocated to it by HEFCE for research support.
If you don’t think it’s important, then ask my co-blogger, Athene Donald, who has also written on this topic.
The London School of Economics (LSE) held a one-day conference last week to discuss how the REF would be seeking to assess the impact of our research and I was invited along to give a personal view on how science blogging might contribute to the scheme of things. If you have 10 minutes to spare you can ‘see’ my talk in this YouTube video (warning – audio and slides only, may contain jokes):
If you have more time at your disposal, podcasts for all the sessions are available here. I found Alan Hughes’ presentation in the first session especially illuminating.
And that’s not all. This impact question is an important one, but attending the conference highlighted for me, and for many others I suspect, the peculiar difficulties associated with figuring out what are the effects on the UK of all the publicly-funded work that we do. I wrote up my immediate impressions for the LSE Impact Blog. It all went a bit strange for a while — as you will see if you read my post — but, as an academic community, we do have to get our heads round this thing called impact. And if we don’t like it, it’s up to us to try and make changes. I’d urge all scientists to think about it.
And so, finally, if you’d like to explore this issue further, let me recommend the upcoming Science Question Time on July 5th at Imperial College, where a heavy-weight panel will be open for discussion and debate.