Other infrequently asked questions about impact

Here are some other infrequently asked questions about impact that didn’t make it into the final cut of my piece at the LSE Impact of Social Sciences Blog.

Why conflate impact with benefit?

Put differently, why assume that all impacts are positive or benefits to society? Obviously, no one wants publicly supported research not to benefit the public. It’s even less palatable to consider that some publicly supported research may actually harm the public. But it’s wishful thinking to assume that all impacts are beneficial. Some impacts that initially appear beneficial may have negative consequences. And seemingly negative indicators might actually show that one is having an impact – even a positive one. I discuss this point with reference to Jeffrey Beall, recently threatened with a $1 billion lawsuit, here.

The question of impact is an opportunity to discuss such issues, rather than retreating into the shelter of imagined value-neutrality or objectivity. It was to spark this discussion that we generated a CSID-specific list – it is purposely idiosyncratic.

How can we maximize our impact?

I grant that ‘How can we maximize our impact?’ is a logistical question; but it incorporates a healthy dose of logos. Asking how to maximize our impacts should appeal to academics. We may be choosey about the sort of impact we desire and on whom; but no one wants to have minimal impact. We all desire to have as much impact as possible. Or, if we don’t, please get another job and let some of us who do want to make a difference have yours.

Wherefore impact?

For what reason are we concerned with the impact of scholarly communication? It’s the most fundamental question we should be asking and answering. We need to be mindful that whatever metrics we devise will have a steering effect on the course of scholarly communications. If we are going to steer scholarly communications, then we should discuss where we plan to go – and where others might steer us.

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