New Report Looks at Steps Toward Impact Measurement

SAGE Publishing, the parent of Social Science Space, has released a report on measuring the impact of social science that draws on a SAGE-sponsored workshop held at Google’s Silicon Valley campus in February. Two issues undergird the report – that traditional “literature-based” measurements of impact are insufficient for modern demands to show value for money, and that new technologies make new ways of measuring impact possible.

Research funders – charitable foundations, national governments, research councils, and even agencies like the United States’ Department of Defense – are requiring social and behavioral scientists to demonstrate the value of their research, how it meets national imperatives, and that it is “high quality.” Citations in other academic work is no longer sufficient to show this value outside (and sometimes even inside) of academe, which drives the quest for new impact metrics.

The report, The Latest Thinking About Metrics for Research Impact in the Social Sciences, summarizes key points from a workshop SAGE convened in February with world-leading experts on research impact. Participants represented the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Altmetric, the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University, Clarivate Analytics, Google, New York University, SAGE, School Dash, SciTech Strategies, the Social Science Research Council, and the University of Washington.

Latest Thinking maps out stakeholder categories, defines key terms and questions, puts forward four models for assessing impact, proposes next steps, and presents a list of 45 resources and data sources that could help in creating a model of SBS impact. It also includes five takeaways that must be addressed in creating any generally accepted regime of social science impact measurement:

  1. The full scholarly community must believe that new impact metrics are useful, necessary, and beneficial to society.
  2. A robust new regime of impact measurement must transcend, but not necessarily supplant, current literature-based systems.
  3. A new regime of social science impact measures must integrate the experiences and expectations of how nonacademic stakeholders will define impact.
  4. All stakeholders must understand that although social science impact is measurable, social science is not STEM, and social science’s impact measurements may echo STEM’s but are unlikely to mirror them.
  5. Social science needs a global vocabulary, a global taxonomy, global metadata, and finally a global set of benchmarks for talking about impact measurement.

While all academic fields are tasked with showing impact, the workshop and the report focused on social and behavioral science, which faces unique circumstances in demonstrating impact and unique demands from funders. SAGE is sponsoring an initiative to bring together researchers, editors and learned societies to promote the creation, acceptance and adoption of impact measurements in social science.

“This is,” says Ziyad Marar, SAGE’s president of global publishing, “an opportune time to address the best ways to improve upon and expand social science metrics and ultimately, promote their value across the globe.” Thusly, the initiative aims to help institutions and researchers get their work into the right hands, at the right time, and in the right format, while more clearly identifying its impact outside of academe.

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