In the lead-up to the 2014 APSA Conference, the APSA Executive agreed to a proposal by the president, Brian Head, to conduct a rapid survey of members’ opinions on the nature and future of political science.
The focus on research impact reflects contemporary trends in higher education and research funding policies in a number of countries. There are sound moral, ethical and financial arguments that publicly-funded academics should use their training and activities for the good of society. Concepts of academic impact and quality have been continuously refined and measured, mainly in terms of high-status publications in journals with higher citation counts. Reliance on such ‘ivory tower’ measures of impact have been increasingly contested over recent years. Thus, in the United Kingdom and Australia, there have been increasing expectations that publicly-funded research should have ‘impact’ beyond academia, and should yield demonstrable economic, environmental and social benefits. These expectations, and an accompanying focus on encouraging research engagement and collaboration, have underpinned the external‘ impact agenda’. In 2013 the Australian Research Council (ARC) defined research impact as ‘the demonstrable contribution that research makes to the economy, society, culture, national security, public policy or services, health, the environment, or quality of life, beyond contributions to academia.
The focus on measuring the economic and societal benefits from research has resulted in increasingly sophisticated and complex research assessment mechanisms, such as the Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) exercise, and the UK’s Research Excellence Framework (REF). While the 2015 round of the ERA does not currently include an impact assessment component, the language of impact is explicit in ARC grant applications and reporting mechanisms, and impact trials were conducted in Australia in2011–12 (Australian Technology Network of Universities and Group of Eight 2013).