Rethinking humane indicators of excellence in the humanities and social sciences

Tag: values

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.

The Value of Openness

The Value of Openness

Day 1 of the Triangle Scholarly Communication Institute is underway, and our HuMetrics: Building Humane Metrics for the Humanities team (Nicky Agate, Simone Sacchi, Christopher Long, Stacy Konkiel, Jason Rhody, and me) is already hard at work. We began by putting aside (for the moment) […]

HuMetrics Values

HuMetrics Values

Today is the first day 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 […]

Enriching vs. Corrosive Values in Academia

Enriching vs. Corrosive Values in Academia

As part of the TriangleSCI HuMetrics working group, I spent the better part of this afternoon brainstorming and debating academic values, products, processes, and metrics in an attempt to lay a foundation for this week’s attempt at articulating “humane metrics” for the humanities.

As our discussion wound down, it occurred to the team that we were working with an important assumption re: values: we had spent the day identifying only those “enriching” values that we wanted to encourage (collaboration, generosity, inclusivity, quality, etc.), rather than examining the current set of values we wished to discourage, those that in many ways are “corroding” academia (competition, bureaucracy, exclusivity, etc.).

That’s in large part due to what we’re here in Chapel Hill to do: define and promote a means of appropriately measuring and rewarding quality scholarship (if not excellence) in the humanities  —  a group of disciplines currently underserved by citation-based metrics.

Yet citation-based metrics are increasingly being requested in research evaluation scenarios, by tenure and review committees, granting agencies, university administrators who wish to benchmark their departments against those of other universities. And those metrics often unintentionally reinforce so-called “corrosive” values: as Haustein and Larivière point out, the over-reliance upon simplistic, citation-based metrics for evaluation has led to undesired practices in academia like “salami-slicing,” self-citation, and ghost authorship; in the humanities, Nederhof explains that a focus upon both citation-based metrics and a push toward publishing in “preferred” venues has led to changing publication practices that are out of step with the realities of the field.

As our work begins tomorrow, we’ll attempt to explore those values that “enrich” academia, hopefully allowing us to “reverse engineer” or map metrics that measure scholars’ ability to achieve values we wish to encourage. No small feat, for sure.

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.

From Metrics to Values

From Metrics to Values

Recognizing that metrics drive practices in the academy (and elsewhere), we on the HuMetrics: Building a Humane Metrics for the Humanities team at this year’s Triangle Scholarly Communications Institute decided to approach our work by thinking first about the values that inform enriching scholarship. This […]


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