Welcome to the next seminar of the KNOWSCIENCE research group discussing the governance of SSH research. The seminar will feature Dr. Corina Balaban, postdoctoral research associate at the Manchester Institute of Innovation Research.
As a sector, higher education is now a very diverse environment bringing together a whole range of actors – from academics and other university staff to governments, policy-makers, funding agencies, research councils, business and others. The boundaries between universities, government, industry and other stakeholders have become increasingly blurred, with non-academic actors getting more and more involved in setting priority research areas, determining research agendas and articulating societal ‘(grand) challenges’ to be addressed. In this context, universities are often framed as ‘problem-solving’ organisations, expected to provide quick answers to a variety of economic and societal issues. While historically there have always been expectations that universities give something back to their societies and demonstrate their public accountability, there are now increasing pressures from various policy actors for research to have a more direct, measurable societal ‘impact’. This presentation provides a critical analysis of these developments, by reconsidering questions about the role of SSH research in contemporary societies. It investigates the ways in which impact is governed (conceptualised and enacted), how certain narratives about impact influence academic knowledge production, and how these narratives ultimately shape professional and organisational identities. The study draws on organisational theory, taking a dynamic view of social change as a multi-actor, agent-centred process. It focuses on the UK and Switzerland, with the first round of data collection planned for summer 2018 to include interviews with academics and university leaders working at two selected universities in each country, and across four study areas within SSH. These will be analysed alongside key impact policies, as well as interviews with relevant (national-level) stakeholders in each country, such as research councils and funding agencies.