Scientific excellence is just one of the many paths to societal impact

Recently the LSE Impact blog posted and entry by Richard Woolley and I where we comment on the dangers of trying to link scientific excellence and societal impact. Assessing the societal impact of research is now the big challenge in research evaluation. Until recently, evaluative and policy efforts were placed on promoting the so-called ‘excellent research’, following the logic that it is the best research the one that can lead to social change and respond to current societal challenges. But the UK 2014 REF has been a game-changer by introducing a complex peer review system by which committees assess the impact of submitted case studies in which researchers explain how their research has contributed to society (in which ever terms they find suitable).

The result is a complex system in which quantitative indicators are relegated leaving mixed feelings as to the process followed and its success. Still, it is a worthy initiative and the first attempt to assess the societal impact of research at a national scale. In our post entry, we part from the premise that the assessment made by the committees is acceptable and explore the relationship between the scores received by each submission unit for their scientific output and societal impact. What we find is that such relationship between scientific excellence or quality and societal impact is not always correlated, suggesting that there are many ways of having and impact in society without doing excellent research and the contrary, doing good research does not neccessarily always leads to having a societal impact.

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