Rethinking humane indicators of excellence in the humanities and social sciences

Day: October 11, 2016

The Excellences of Scholarship: Collegiality

The Excellences of Scholarship: Collegiality

We began the day with a walk. The morning was cool and fresh, and the grounds around the DuBoise House at the Rizzo Center offered the six of us on the #HuMetrics team at the TriangleSCI the peace and space we needed to think out […]

On Quality

On Quality

Today is the second full day of the Triangle Scholarly Communication Institute, where I am part of a team that’s focusing on HuMetrics: Building Humane Metrics for the Humanities. We have each agreed to quickly blog some thoughts as part of our process; warning: what […]

Community as a Humanistic Value

Community as a Humanistic Value

Today is the Day Two of the Triangle Scholarly Communication Institute, where I’m heading up a team that’s focusing on HuMetrics: Building Humane Metrics for the Humanities. Our team has focused a lot on the importance of working out loud, of process over product, and agreed that we would each take 20 minutes once or twice a day to blog, pomodoro style, about what we’ve been up to. In other words, don’t expect polished prose; this is pre-alpha humetrics-in-the-making.

We started off team time today by clustering the 20–30 values that we believe would enhance and enrich humanities scholarship under five headings: Equity, Openness, Collegiality, Quality, and Community. Taken together, these values could embody what the Greeks called arete, or excellence in practice; if we encompass them in our scholarly practice, they should have impact (see Stacy Konkiel’s post on influence vs. impact for what we understand by that).

I offered to write the post on community because it was a perceived lack thereof (in the humanities) that prompted me to leave academia. The infighting and backstabbing, the condescension and derision — these were not something I wanted to be a part of. And yet there’s so much potential for things to be better. That’s why we wanted to reverse engineer humanities metrics, to see if we could start from the things we value and then work out how to incentivize and measure practices that embody those values.

Under Community, we clustered engagement, network, holistic, attunement, and leadership. [Note: while I’m writing this, we’re continuing today’s discussion on Slack, and have decided, given conversations about posterity and future audiences that were part of this afternoon’s session, that preservation should also be included here.] It’s a diverse list, to be sure (I’m sure you’re scratching your head or stroking your beard or furrowing your brow just a little), but hopefully I can explain our thinking. That is, if I can remember our thinking — I’m beginning to believe there’s such a thing as too much brainstorming.

Paying attention to community in scholarly life means fostering, cultivating, and participating in relationships and networks to which one gives and from which one takes. Like collegiality, it’s about generosity and mentorship; it’s about knowing when to lead and when to listen. It encompasses attunement because it asks us to be intentional about the connections we make and the way we enact them. One might create a community in the classroom, or acknowledge the full roster of people that contributed to the making of a book (is there really such a thing as a monograph?), or orient a class around service learning in such a way that it benefitted the larger community, the one beyond the academy. One might participate in a community by sharing data or code or primary source materials, by adding certain materials to a syllabus, or by opening up one’s own creative process (rather than just the product) to critique and conversation. And being part of a community means thinking beyond the now, proactively considering the preservation of all elements of the scholarly record (from blog posts to conference papers to tweets and vines), thinking forward to the publics and communities that might find value or interest in our work ten, fifty, or one hundred years from today.

Follow team #HuMetrics as we wrestle with humanities metrics. We are Christopher Long, Rebecca Kennison, Stacy Konkiel, Simone Sacchi, Jason Rhody, and Nicky Agate, and we’ll be writing here all week.

On Openness

On Openness

Second day at #TriangleSCI with the #HuMetrics team. Today we focused on clustering our values into major value-categories (Equity, Openness, Collegiality, Quality, and Community) with the idea that excellence in scholarship is an expression and combination of these value-categories as they are embodied in scholarly […]

Equity as a Core Value

Equity as a Core Value

We’ve just completed Day 2 at #TriangleSCI, and more hard (but good) work is now behind the #HuMetrics team. Today we took our huge brainstorming list from yesterday and distilled the values we believe should underpin the development of “humane metrics.” We came up with […]

Influence vs. Impact: Which Are Humanists Really Trying to Achieve?

Influence vs. Impact: Which Are Humanists Really Trying to Achieve?

Apologies for the false dichotomy I’ve set up by my framing of this post in its title as “impact versus influence.” It’s a result of the quickblogging process, one that Christopher Long, Rebecca Kennison, Nicky Agate, Simone Sacchi, Jason Rhody, and I agreed upon as a means of digesting and sharing our daily work at the TriangleSCI meeting.

Yesterday, the #HuMetrics team spent the better part of our day articulating values, outputs, processes, and metrics that humanistic research results in. Our idea was that if we could “reverse engineer” metrics from values and practices, that we could come up with metrics that are more humane: they not only reflect and incentivize the practices that humanists value most, but also help humanists avoid the “impact trap” that many in STEM find themselves a part of.

Our team came up with a list of values that fall into several general areas: equity, openness, collegiality, quality, and community:

(It’s important to note that our list is by no means exhaustive, and for the most part it draws upon our own personal experience and is not as informed by the existing research in this area. We’re aware of that limitation  —  the list is mostly meant to be a starting point for thinking about metrics.)

As you can see, these core values are flanked on either side by two overarching desires: for research excellence and for research impact. It’s upon the latter point that I want to think aloud for a few minutes.

“Impact” is a term with very particular connotations, depending upon where you stand in the world.

From the STEM and social sciences perspective, it’s often related to measurable changes in the world that are attributable to research outcomes (nod to Cameron Neylon for that succinct definition). Much of the time, this results in an emphasis upon research commercialization, economic impacts, or public health impacts.

For the humanities, “impact” is also often tied to money: how many jobs the cultural sector produces, income related to cultural activities like the film industry or museum openings, and so on. But as the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council has pointed out, there’s a hierarchy of impact assumed in our current neoliberal environment, one that puts economic value above all other values  —  and that should not be the case, especially for the humanities. And as David Budtz Pedersen at the Humanomics Research Center at the University of Copenhagen has pointed out, “the humanities may find many pathways into society, some of which are deeply integrated in the functioning and affluence of modern liberal societies.”

We discussed the need to push back against the idea of “impact” as outcome oriented (especially as those outcomes relate to the economy), and to also reclaim the term “impact” to mean what humanists want it to mean  —  in all its messiness, and sometimes at odds with what’s demanded of researchers by the institutions, governments, private funders, and public that want to see an easy-to-digest statement of “return on investment” from the humanists whose work they support.

What remains to be seen  —  what we’ll tackle tomorrow  —  is whether it’s actually possible to find metrics to relate to less-tangible values, beyond economics: those that tell us whether humanities research is truly changing a discipline, affecting the way the public thinks, or having any other number of personal and societal impacts.

Perhaps a better way to think about what humanists wish to achieve is to use the term “influence” instead of impact?

Follow team #HuMetrics as we wrestle with humanities metrics. We are Christopher Long, Rebecca Kennison, Stacy Konkiel, Simone Sacchi, Jason Rhody, and Nicky Agate, and we’ll be writing here all week.