November 14, 2012 by Amy Ryall
Impact is something I’ve been thinking about quite a lot recently, mainly due to conversations at meetings about measuring it in an Arts and Humanities context. In a climate where so many other Faculties measure impact and outcomes in monetary terms, Arts and Humanities figures look poor. We can’t attract a lot of contract research which brings in income to the University in real terms and research doesn’t turn into things that can be patented, marketed or sold. It seems then, that the key is in finding a way of talking about the things that we do, in terms that replicate or mirror how it is for other Faculties. Work with mental health service users, for example, doesn’t make any money but it does save money if it reduces the number of times that patients access services. It may support the process of recovery to the point that people are able to play a more engaged part in society, contribute to that society, perform roles, either paid or unpaid, that drive economic regeneration. These seem like lofty ambitions but every little helps and if we can find some way of measuring these steps, we can move towards a situation where research impact in the Arts and Humanities are taken as seriously as those in Science and Engineering. I’ve talked about Margaret’s Wardrobe before, here because I love it as an idea, that we can support the medical care of those unable to articulate their own history, by using historical research into their lives. Those that cared for Margaret went away with a better understanding of her as a person and therefore, more incentive to treat her as such, leading to better clinical care and better results. Is it too crude to talk about this in terms of better value for money? Probably it is, but that’s the underlying message. There are other examples that aren’t based on medicine. Work with schools can support students who are otherwise at risk of underachievement or exclusion, both situations that are costly in social and economic terms. Supporting exhibitions can help to bring in new audiences, to enhance the reputation of organisations, increase visitor numbers, increase income. I could go on and I’m sure that you can think of your own examples. I’m not advocating that we only think about the public engagement work that we do in these terms, rather that we try and see things from outside our disciplines sometimes, in order to help others understand what it is that is unique and beneficial about what we do.
If you’re interested, there are some more thoughts on impact in this Guardian article Some of the comments are interesting too.