On Research Metrics


One of the many hats I wear at the moment is as Head of Research at Manchester Metropolitan University. As researchers, we are now routinely evaluated and measured within an inch of our lives (pun intended :-)) and research metrics are an important part of that. My view is that we desperately need to reclaim those metrics for ourselves, rather than having them imposed on us. We need to build a wide range of metrics for our own disciplines, and control those metrics. As we all know, what gets measured gets managed. HEFCE is launching a consultation on research metrics to be used in the next REF. At MMU, discussion is already under way on those metrics, and a view is certainly emerging that a) metrics can distort research behaviour and b) the HEFCE metrics do not represent all disciplines.

To be fair, HEFCE acknowledge in their consultation document that ‘gaming’ of the system can be a result of said metrics. They are also interested in the impact of Open Access on research metrics, as are we. The open access requirements of British grants councils in the form of the RCUK Policy on Open Access mean that most UK universities are on the road to OA. One of the positive consequences of having one’s research freely available for download is an increase in citations. So, what does this mean? Traditionally, citations have been a proxy for quality – but, if an academic has a terribly well cited article, is it just simply that they’ve had an interesting article freely available? Certainly, a chapter of mine on grounded theory experienced a massive jump in citations (thank you, Indiana University!) when it was made available as a reading on a research methods course. So, what happens in a world of open access? Do citations become more or less important in a world where you don’t have to pay for access? Of course, the challenge is that open access will not happen overnight. There might be an uneven playing field for a while, where UK academics might benefit from citations from countries that currently don’t have open access. For those interested in reading more, look no further than the fab LSE blog on the impact of social sciences – an excellent set of resources and viewpoints pertinent to the HEFCE review can be found here.

So, what is the future of research metrics? I think alternative research metrics, or altmetrics as they are popularly known, are the way forward. Still this doesn’t necessarily help our colleagues in humanities who need metrics for monographs, or colleagues in the arts. Personally, I think we do need to set up the criteria by which we are judged – or have others set those criteria for us!


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