‘Low’ UK take-up of re­spon­si­ble met­rics agenda causes con­cern

THE (Times Higher Education) - - NEWS - El­lie.both­well@timeshigh­ere­d­u­ca­tion.com

The “low take-up” of a dec­la­ra­tion on re­spon­si­ble met­rics in the UK re­search com­mu­nity sug­gests that a per­for­mance mea­sure­ment cul­ture is still strong within the coun­try’s academy, a sec­tor leader has warned.

David Sweeney, di­rec­tor of re­search and knowl­edge ex­change at the Higher Ed­u­ca­tion Fund­ing Coun­cil for Eng­land, sug­gested that the “ques­tion of has the tide turned” when it comes to the use of met­rics loomed large within academia, but he was hes­i­tant to be overly op­ti­mistic.

“I think the tide has turned at a cer­tain level of dis­cus­sion…but as we’ve seen with the low take-up of the [San Fran­cisco] Dec­la­ra­tion on Re­search As­sess­ment, I don’t be­lieve the tide has turned in the re­search com­mu­nity as a whole or, in­deed, nec­es­sar­ily in uni­ver­si­ties, who face very dif­fi­cult prob­lems about their own as­sess­ment frame­works,” he said.

“I think we’ve got to recog­nise that and en­gage in much more ad­vo­cacy.”

The San Fran­cisco dec­la­ra­tion, also known as Dora, calls on the aca­demic com­mu­nity to stop us­ing jour­nal im­pact fac­tors as a proxy for the qual­ity of schol­ar­ship. On 8 Fe­bru­ary it was an­nounced that all seven of the UK’s re­search coun­cils had signed the dec­la­ra­tion, which was ini­ti­ated at the an­nual meet­ing of the Amer­i­can So­ci­ety for Cell Bi­ol­ogy in 2012.

Mr Sweeney’s com­ments, at a con­fer­ence hosted by the Fo­rum for Re­spon­si­ble Re­search Met­rics, were re­flected in the re­sults of a new sur­vey of UK re­search or­gan­i­sa­tions about the met­rics cul­ture within their in­sti­tu­tion, which were pre­sented at the event.

More than three-quar­ters (78 per cent) of the 96 re­spon­dents, most of which were higher ed­u­ca­tion providers, said that their or­gan­i­sa­tion did not have a re­search met­rics pol­icy, while the same share said that their or­gan­i­sa­tion had not signed Dora.

While al­most a third (32 per cent) of sur­vey re­spon­dents said that they were con­sid­er­ing sign­ing Dora, the same share said that they were not con­sid­er­ing do­ing so. A fur­ther 13 per cent of par­tic­i­pants said that they had con­sid­ered sign­ing the dec­la­ra­tion but had de­cided not to pro­ceed.

When asked what ac­tion had been taken at their or­gan­i­sa­tion to pro­mote the prin­ci­ples of Dora or sim­i­lar ini­tia­tives such as the Lei­den Man­i­festo for Re­search Met­rics or The Met­ric Tide re­port, more than a third (34 per cent) of re­spon­dents gave no an­swer or an an­swer that did not re­spond to the ques­tion.

Paul Ayris, pro vice-provost for li­brary ser­vices at UCL, who pre­sented the sur­vey re­sults, said that the “eva­sion” was “a bit wor­ry­ing” be­cause it showed that there was “a lack of en­gage­ment or a lack of con­fi­dence in how to take these is­sues for­ward”.

Al­most two-thirds of par­tic­i­pants (61 per cent) said that they saw a value in the UK’s de­vel­op­ing an agree­ment sim­i­lar to Dora.

But Mr Sweeney warned against the idea of the UK at­tempt­ing “to pro­duce some­thing that is very spe­cial to the UK”, adding that it must be a “con­tin­u­ing global ef­fort”. He added that aca­demics “who care about” re­spon­si­ble met­rics must “lead the ad­vo­cacy first”.

Lizzie Gadd, re­search pol­icy man­ager (pub­li­ca­tions) at Lough­bor­ough Univer­sity, who also spoke at the event, ar­gued that “re­spon­si­ble peer re­view is just as im­por­tant as re­spon­si­ble met­rics but the frame­works don’t ad­dress this”.

She said that frame­works “need to ap­ply to our peo­ple”. “We need ro­bust, hum­ble, trans­par­ent, re­flex­ive, di­verse peo­ple do­ing met­rics. Un­for­tu­nately we of­ten have un­qual­i­fied and over­con­fi­dent peo­ple both gen­er­at­ing and in­ter­pret­ing met­rics for re­search eval­u­a­tions,” she said.

Dis­turb­ing mea­sures ‘we need ro­bust, di­verse peo­ple. Un­for­tu­nately we of­ten have un­qual­i­fied and over­con­fi­dent peo­ple gen­er­at­ing and in­ter­pret­ing met­rics’

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