Measuring the scientific quality of research is common practice, but the question how to measure the impact of research on society is still largely unanswered. The reverse question is no less relevant: how does society impact science?
A European consortium of knowledge/academic institutes called SIAMPI has received a EUR 800,000 grant from the European Commission to develop assessment methods to answer these questions. This effort, which is expected to take two years, is envisaged to produce a ready-to-use set of indicators to measure the (productive) interaction between science and society.
First supranational effort
As the global academic community has grown into a more interactive, but also a more competitive one, and as research funders increasingly demand measurable valorisation of research, the development of methods to measure the actual social impact of research lags behind. While the concept of social impact is often included in general scientific assessment protocols, it is rarely prioritised or made operational. Furthermore, efforts to properly measure social impact often do not exceed the national level. SIAMPI, a consortium of four European knowledge institutes, will cross these national boundaries and develop an interdisciplinary, internationally applicable method that fits a variety of research areas.
Measuring social impact through four tracks of productive interactions
The premise of the SIAMPI exercise is that knowledge develops in constant interaction between science and society, in which feedback is given, results are assessed and improvements are suggested by all stakeholders (researchers, universities and funders, but also governmental organisations, NGO's, industries and the general public).
SIAMPI's method will be developed to measure the social impact of research along four tracks of productive interactions:
- direct personal contacts (ranging from mere meetings to complex arrangements for research collaboration)
- mediation by specific outputs (expert reports, clinical guidelines, scientific advice etc)
- transfer of goods (products, social practices, policy tools)
- funding or other support mechanisms (people, social practices, artefacts and support).
After this analytical exercise, SIAMPI will conduct case studies in the following fields: nanotechnology, ICT, health, and social and human sciences. The case studies will take place in both national and supranational settings. These case studies are considered elemental as they will show to what extent the method can be applied in a diversity of research disciplines.
A hallmark of the SIAMPI approach is the involvement from the onset of not only researchers that produce socially relevant research, but also of stakeholders from society. Both groups are brought together to help develop criteria and indicators that best represent productive interactions that lead to social impact of research.
SIAMPI is an acronym of the project 'Social Impact Assessment Methods for research and funding instruments through the study of Productive Interactions between science and society'. This project has received a grant worth EUR 800,000 for the duration of two years in the context of the European Commission's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) - Science in Society (SiS).
The SIAMPI-approach takes its roots in the sci_Quest method for the evaluation of research in the context of policy and social questions. The development of the method was commissioned by the Dutch Consultative Committee of Sector Councils for research and development (COS), and further developed by the platform Evaluating Research in Context (ERiC). This platform has coordinated several pilot projects testing the method at various universities, in such fields as architecture, law and electrical engineering.
The Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) promotes the quality of scientific and scholarly work and strives to ensure that Dutch scholars and scientists make the best possible contribution to the cultural, social, and economic development of Dutch society. KNAW is the coordinator of the SIAMPI project.
The Rathenau Institute is an independent organisation that focuses on the influence of science and technology on our daily lives and that maps its dynamics through independent research and debate. The Rathenau Institute is a KNAW research institute.
INGENIO was created in 1999 as a joint Institute of the Spanish Council for Scientific Research [CSIC] and the Polytechnic University of Valencia [UPV]. It carries out high-quality basic and applied research in the field of innovation studies and focuses on knowledge transfer studies, science policy and innovation studies.
The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Institutes (Les Maisons de Sciences de l'Homme (MSH)) bring together research as well as researchers in Social and Human Sciences. The network, which now includes 21 institutes, was mainly set up between 1990 and 2000 with the strong support and encouragement of the Research Ministry (Ministère de la Recherche).
The Manchester Institute of Innovation Research is a centre of study into questions surrounding science and technology policy and strategy. This area of research is one that is evermore important given the shift toward a 'knowledge-intensive' society in which scientific and technological knowledge play central roles.
*** FURTHER READING ***
Website Evaluating Research in Context (ERiC)
Website European Commission -Science in Society (FP7)
Article Measuring the social impact of research: Difficult but necessary (BMJ 2001;323:528 (8 September)
*** FOR MORE INFORMATION PLEASE CONTACT ***
Gertske Kuiper (KNAW, Communications Department)
Tel. +31 - 20 - 551 08 63
Ilona van den Brink (NWO Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research; communications officer)
Tel. +31 - 70 - 349 44 22