My social science research topic – defining impact

Choosing your subject

Having spent a couple few weeks fretting over social science research methods, designs and all manner of structural issues, I thought it was high time that I penned a return to my actual subject matter: the social impact of research. In this post, I want to talk about my attempts to pick the aspects of a subject area that I am going to focus on: choosing my specialist subject from a wider debate.

The research impact debate and REF2014

What with the REF2014 deadline just behind us, and the assessment still ongoing, impact has been at the forefront of most academic discussions I have had over the past year. From optimistic, inspiring comments to soul sapping moans, everyone has been discussing the impact of academic research in all it’s many varied forms.

Defining my corner of the impact debate as a social science

At the very beginning of my research, on day two as a PhD student, I think it is important for me to start trying to define, however loosely or incorrectly I may start out, my little corner of this impact debate. Social can be a very vague, woolly word, depending on it’s context, so it might be easiest to begin by pointing out some aspects of impact that I do not intend to cover.

Economic impact of academic research

David Cope, in his essay on impact, talks about how impact encompasses different elements, including economic, social, public policy, cultural and quality of life. He makes a point of saying that the concept of research needing to demonstrate ‘value for money’ has been around since the beginning of the 20th century, and so has naturally been discussed and studied in much detail. This is not to say that there isn’t much still to be said, just that this is more well documented and assessed area of impact than others. It is for this reason, plus the fact that I am certainly no finance/economics expert, that I will be excluding economic impact from my research.

The social impact research umbrella

For me, the remaining elements that David identifies all come under the umbrella of social; social to me means society, the people who are affected ultimately by the research, and it is these aspects that I intend to concentrate on. I want to see how academic research can effect how people perceive academia, as well as how they view the society they live in, including their quality of life, ambitions, interests and activities.

Gathering data on social impact

Of course the natural question that follows this is of how I will gather information around these questions. I have been thinking about two separate areas: how academics think they need to create social impact, and how end users create social impact. Being very new to social science methods of data gathering, I expect this is going to be a BIG learning curve, but let’s save that for the next post. 🙂

As always, comments and feedback very welcome!

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3 thoughts on “My social science research topic – defining impact

  1. You have touched on some provoking ideas here, made me think about how researchers might measure the social impact of their work with young children – and i think they might take a very different stance depending on whether they consider their research is driven by a need to improve the quality of life during childhood or driven by a need to improve future life chances of children?

    • Good point,I think those two needs clash quite considerably. Also,I think there would be many more ethical considerations as you mentioned the other day, as case studies with young children need to take into account the effect the observations have on them etc.

  2. Pingback: Using Lego Serious Play to explore my PhD research journey | The misadventures of Dr Beech…

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