Measuring research impact – the metrics of grey collar labour

Academics in western higher education institutes are increasingly being assessed according to performance measures and metrics that resemble a Taylorist production line from early twentieth century capitalism.

The days when public intellectuals could luxuriate in ivory towers have long since faded into history. These days academic offices resemble open-plan public service pod-farms. There are no leather arm chairs or pipe-smoking professors in the refectory.

You are more likely to see us hunched over a pile of marking or filling in endless performance review and appraisal forms.

Higher education has become instrumentalised, commodified and regimented.

Students are no more. Instead we have customers and we must take them on an effortless journey from juvenile to adult while they continue to live at home well into their 20s and expect a steady diet of spoon-fed readers and easy marking.

Of course, this is a gross over-simplification and I know that many academics (myself included) continue to take pleasure in teaching and in mentoring students as they take hold of their own learning and see the light at the end of the assessment tunnel.

There’s increasingly less time for research, not to mention less hard-to-get dollars available. This is particularly true in the social sciences — often considered of lower value that attempts to cure cancer, make ‘clean’ coal, or map the human genome.

One metric that is used to sort “good” research from “ordinary” or “bad” is the notion of impact. Government departments have produced scads paperwork to grapple with this concept. Often it leads to nothing and after a few years the measures are scrapped or replaced with even more arcane forms of policing.

It’s gratifying then to see how impact is measured in less formal ways.

Take The Conversation, for example. On this collaborative and innovative site, impact is measured by social media tools.

The result is an instant and accurate picture of how the work of grey collar intellectuals is affecting the people around them.

Impact as measured by social media tools. If you ‘like’ my research just click.

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