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Social Policy Professor Wins Award

Professor Kat Smith has been awarded the Cambridge University Press Award for Excellence in Social Policy, along with her co-author Dr Ellen Stewart, for a Journal of Social Policy article titled 'We Need to Talk about Impact: Why Social Policy Academics need to Engage with the UK's Research Impact Agenda'.

The article explores the UK’s research impact agenda from the perspective of Social Policy, drawing on interview data, official UK funding guidance on research impact, existing literature (remarkably sparse within Social Policy) and a review of the REF2014 impact case studies submitted by high- and low- scoring institutions. Analysing these combined data sources, the article raises 10 concerning questions about research impact (relating to three distinct themes):

(1) The potential to reward ‘bad’ impact:

(i) Is the impact agenda incentivising the impact of single studies (rather than syntheses)?

(ii) Could the impact agenda reward impact be based on misinterpreted evidence?

(iii) Does the impact agenda reward symbolic research use over more substantive but complex contributions?

(iv) Why aren’t the ethical dimensions of research impact being considered?

(2) The difficulties with accurately tracing and demonstrating research impact:

(v) Who should be rewarded where research syntheses achieve impact?

(vi) Can we really distinguish ‘impact facts’ from ‘impact fables’?

(vii) Why is there a cut off period for research to achieve impact?

(3) The practical implications of the research impact agenda:

(viii) Is there a risk that academic incentives to demonstrate impact will lead to policymaker being overloaded with evidence?

(ix) Does research impact reinforce and reifying traditional ‘elites’?

(x) Is the impact agenda squeezing critical and ‘blue skies’ work in academia?

Concluding that the current approach to measuring and rewarding impact is, somewhat paradoxically, remarkably uninformed by available evidence, Kat and Ellen argue Social Policy scholars should do more to engage in debates about research impact to shape this evolving UK agenda.

You can read the article in its entirety on the Cambridge University website.

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