Metrics in research assessment under review

This week the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) published a call to gather “views and evidence relating to the use of metrics in research assessment and management” The council has established an international steering group which will perform an independent review of the role of metrics in research assessment. The review is supposed to contribute to the next installment of the Research Excellence Framework (REF) and will be completed Spring 2015.

Interestingly, two members of the European ACUMEN project are members of the 12 person steering group – Mike Thelwall (professor of cybermetrics at Wolverhampton University and myself – and it is led by James Wilsdon, professor of Science and Democracy at the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU) at the University of Sussex. The London School of Economics scholar Jane Tinkler, co-author of the book The Impact of the Social Sciences, is also member and has put together some reading material on their blog So there will be ample input from the social sciences to analyze both the promises and the pitfalls of using metrics in the British research assessment procedures. The British clearly see this as an important issue. The creation of the steering group was announced by the British minister for universities and science, David Willett at the Universities UK conference on April 3 In addition to science & technology studies experts, the steering group consists of scientists from the most important stakeholders in the British science system.

At CWTS, we responded enthusiastically to the invitation by HEFCE to contribute to this work, because this approach resonates so well with the CWTS research programme The review will focus on: identifying useful metrics for research assessment; how metrics should be used in research assessment; ‘gaming’ and strategic use of metrics; and the international perspective.

All the important questions about metrics have been put on the table by the steering group, among others:

–       What empirical evidence (qualitative or quantitative) is needed for the evaluation of research, research outputs and career decisions?

–       What metric indicators are useful for the assessment of research outputs, research impacts and research environments?

–       What are the implications of the disciplinary differences in practices and norms of research culture for the use of metrics?

–       What evidence supports the use of metrics as good indicators of research quality?

–       Is there evidence for the move to more open access to the research literature to enable new metrics to be used or enhance the usefulness of existing metrics?

–       What evidence exists around the strategic behaviour of researchers, research managers and publishers responding to specific metrics?

–       Has strategic behaviour invalidated the use of metrics and/or led to unacceptable effects?

–       What are the risks that some groups within the academic community might be disproportionately disadvantaged by the use of metrics for research assessment and management?

–       What can be done to minimise ‘gaming’ and ensure the use of metrics is as objective and fit-for-purpose as possible?

The steering group also calls for evidence on these issues from other countries. If you wish to contribute evidence to the HEFCE review, please make it clear in your response whether you are responding as an individual or on behalf of a group or organisation. Responses should be sent to by noon on Monday 30 June 2014. The steering group will consider all responses received by this deadline.




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