26 March 2014 By Northern Lights
What is academic research for? As a REF manager recently said “This is not a question that academics have had to consider in the past. Measuring impact is a completely new concept.”
The rules of how the UK government funds research have changed. The most money has always gone to top-ranked researchers, but as the Research Assessment Exercise has changed to the Research Excellence Framework (REF), so has the way ‘top-ranked’ is now measured.
1. Criteria for assessing reach and significance
The REF criteria for assessing impacts are ‘reach’ and ‘significance’ and now account for 20% of the scores for a research case study and expected to be 30% in the future. This is what REF itself says about impact assessment
2. How can social media increase reach and significance?
I recently ran a Training Gateway training day for universities on developing a social media strategy – more in this blog about the discussions and how to do this.
For a few, REF impact was a big focus and they instinctively felt that social media has a significant role – but what and how? Of course as soon as anyone in social media hears the words ‘reach’ and ‘significance’, you just know there has to be a place for it to increase impact.
It is interesting that years ago, I was asked to run a series of workshops for the Higher Education Academy to help academics disseminate their research. It was a frustrating exercise because it was like trying to design a PR campaign without having done the initial research and planning. An example was some great research to help lecturers be more effective with dyslexic learners. If they had built an initial community of lecturers across the country to take part in the research, then the dissemination at the end would have been a doddle.
And this is where social media can perhaps play the biggest part in REF impact. Helping to design and shape research from the start and building a community – so that by the end of the research, ‘reach’ and ‘significance’ are no-brainers.
3. The role of social media for REF impact
So here is how we think social media can be used to for REF impact
@lizditz 5,642 followers
@thecoffeeKlatch 47.3K followers
@DDNC13 799 followers
@Dyslexic_Kids 1,813 followers
So one retweet (RT) alone from these four would mean you could be reaching 55, 554 people. Of course it isn’t quite that simple – but the power of these networks is enormous
You can write your own blog, tweet and get people to give you feedback and ideas on the blog – or go out to bloggers in your area and comment on what they are doing, become known as an expert (without becoming known as a stalker!). The Dyslexia Action blog below would be a good example of where to engage and build a relationship.
With all this, we haven’t even touched Facebook, Pinterest, Tumblr or other social media platforms. But even keeping it simple, you can see how social media can help to shape research, build communities, generate significance – and have enormous reach.
Is there anything critical here that we’ve missed about the role of social media for REF impact?
The biggest obstacle for many I suspect is first being convinced that social media can be useful (and this blog helps that point) and then having (or making) the time to get started – and to decide which tools to use. Because there are so many different possibilities at the moment it could be a case of all or nothing – with nothing being the option of choice. Universities need to work out how they can support colleagues to do this!