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Social science knowledge about human behavior and institutions underpins many of the notable advances in economic growth, technological innovation, health, education, good governance, and quality of life. This knowledge also helps us understand why public policy sometimes fails to improve our situation. Yet much of this knowledge is either taken for granted or, increasingly, reduced to metrics of impact that belie the complexity of knowledge communication and influence.
This paper surveys the debates about the relevance of the social sciences, and how to understand and better communicate their various types of impact. The recent Australian debates on innovation and accountabililty are compared with international frameworks (such as the UK REF framework) that attempt to measure impacts and with other frameworks that reject that approach. The distinctive character of the social sciences needs to be better understood if we are to avoid crude metrics that compare us unfavourably with medical technologies.