With the REF looming, our leaders’ thoughts turn to imaginative strategies for increasing our research ‘impact’ other than simply adequately funding and allowing researchers the time to do it.. These range from University-wide projects such as IDEAS for Impact, to the neoliberalisation of funding via the sacred concept of competition. Across the faculties, FASS apparently likes impact from ‘mew’ projects (sic), and FHM pronounces a ‘Biannual Impact Audit and Report’. Leading the way is FST, which promises ‘Research Impact Fund-Grants of up to £5000… to support academics in the generation, tracking and evidencing of impact, linked to excellent research… enhance the Faculty’s impact return to (REF)… supports the impact environment… internationally-leading outputs and a rolling set of impact cases’. Well quite. Here’s hoping they don’t roll away pre-REF.
So, in order to assist going forward in the impact environment, what does the researcher have to do? Firstly, hold meetings (obviously) with departmental and faculty impact champions and managers, and fill in an application to be assessed by a committee ‘comprising the Faculty Impact Manager and 3 nominated members of a designated RESEARCH IMPACT FUND SUB-COMMITTEE of the FST RESEARCH IMPACT COMMITTEE’ (our capitals). In this example, a psychologist, an ecologist and a botanist could be judging an astrophysics project. Does anyone REALLY think that this is a sensible idea? Is the free market ethos so firmly embedded that just funding good research without introducing some element of competition is anathema to the facultocracy? Or are they simply accepting that they aren’t wise enough to take the decisions, so delegate to subcommittees in an attempt to show ‘due process’?
Experience has shown that any success involves many follow-up meetings with both impact champions and managers, where beleaguered academics find themselves repeatedly explaining their work and why it has yet to feature in the FTSE index despite faculty assistance. Apart from the risk of funding inappropriate projects – the ones written by the best sales-people and not the best researchers – this policy has another unintended drawback (wasting huge amounts of time in form fillings and meetings is assumed to be regarded as a plus – a mutual job creation scheme for those who prefer talking to doing). Unfortunately, many good researchers find the meeting-heavy process so aversive they might just get on with their research and not engage with the process at all – possibly no bad thing for the march of progress but unlikely to be what our leaders intended.