We need to talk about impact : why social policy academics need to engage with the UK's research impact agenda

Smith, Katherine E and Stewart, Ellen (2017) We need to talk about impact : why social policy academics need to engage with the UK's research impact agenda. Journal of Social Policy, 46 (1). pp. 109-127. ISSN 0047-2794

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    Abstract

    Of all the social sciences, social policy is one of the most obviously policy-orientated. One might, therefore, expect a research and funding agenda which prioritises and rewards policy relevance to garner an enthusiastic response among social policy scholars. Yet, the social policy response to the way in which major funders and the Research Excellence Framework (REF) are now prioritising ‘impact’ has been remarkably muted. Elsewhere in the social sciences, ‘research impact’ is being widely debated and a wealth of concerns about the way in which this agenda is being pursued are being articulated. Here, we argue there is an urgent need for social policy academics to join this debate. First, we employ interviews with academics involved in health inequalities research, undertaken between 2004-2015, to explore perceptions, and experiences, of the ‘impact agenda’ (an analysis which is informed by a review of guidelines for assessing ‘impact’ and relevant academic literature). Next, we analyse high and low scoring REF2014 impact case studies to assess whether these concerns appear justified. We conclude by outlining how social policy expertise might usefully contribute to efforts to encourage, measure and reward research ‘impact’.