Taking health geography out of the academy

Shortt, Niamh K. and Pearce, Jamie and Mitchell, Richard and Smith, Katherine E. (2016) Taking health geography out of the academy. Social Science and Medicine, 168. pp. 265-272. ISSN 0277-9536 (https://doi.org/10.1016/j.socscimed.2016.06.048)

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In recent years the academic landscape has been shifting and significantly affected by the introduction of an ‘impact agenda’. Academics are increasingly expected to demonstrate their broader engagement with the world and evidence related outcomes. Whilst different countries are at various stages along this impact journey, the UK is the first country to link impact to funding outcomes; here impact now accounts for 20% of an academic unit of assessment’s Research Excellence Framework (REF) result. This concept of ‘research impact’ implies that our work can effect change through one or more identifiable events in a direct, preferably linear and certainly measurable manner. In this paper, focusing on impact in social science, and policy-related impact in particular, we argue that such a cause and effect model is inappropriate. Furthermore that impact is not immediate or indeed linear within social science research. Drawing on recent work on alcohol and tobacco environments in Scotland we present a case study of impact, reflect on the process and respond to the challenges of moving beyond ‘business as usual’ public participation towards the measurement of outcomes. In doing so we critique the way in which ‘impact’ is currently measured and suggest a move towards an enlightenment model with greater recognition of process.