The recent moves towards incentivising ‘impact’ within the research funding system pose a growing challenge to academic research practices, charged with producing both scientific, and social impact. This article explores this tension by drawing on interviews with sixty-one UK academics and policymakers involved in publicly-funded knowledge exchange initiatives. The experiences of the interviewed academics point to a functional separation of academic practices into three distinct types: producing traditional research, translating research, and producing policy-oriented research. These three types of practices differ in terms of both the epistemic qualities of the produced knowledge and its legitimacy as valid academic work. Overall, the article argues that the relationship between relevance and excellence of research within the impact agenda is characterised by simultaneous contradiction and co-dependence, leading to hybridisation of academic knowledge production and expansion of the boundaries of policy expertise into the traditionally-academic spaces.
The visualization of ranking information in global public policy is moving away from traditional "league table" formats and toward dashboards and interactive data displays. This paper explores the rhetoric underpinning the visualization of ranking information in such interactive formats, the purpose of which is to encourage country participation in reporting on the Sustainable Development Goals. The paper unpacks the strategies that the visualization experts adopt in the measurement of global poverty and wellbeing, focusing on a variety of interactive ranking visualizations produced by the OECD, the World Bank, the Gates Foundation and the 'Our World in Data' group at the University of Oxford. Building on visual and discourse analysis, the study details how the politically and ethically sensitive nature of global public policy, coupled with the pressures for "decolonizing" development, influence how rankings are visualized. The study makes two contributions to the literature on rankings. First, it details the move away from league table formats toward multivocal interactive layouts that seek to mitigate the competitive and potentially dysfunctional pressures of the display of "winners and losers." Second, it theorizes ranking visualizations in global public policy as "alignment devices" that entice country buy-in and seek to align actors around common global agendas.
Background: The canonical view of expert legitimacy in policymaking links it to objectivity and autonomy from politics. Yet, in practice such ‘epistemic gains’ stemming from the separation of facts and values are problematic, as expert advice inherently combines political and technical considerations.Aims and objectives: This article addresses the puzzle of double – technocratic and political – legitimacy of experts by proposing a framework for understanding expert legitimacy as an interplay of three analytical levels: epistemic, individual actor and institutional. The paper explores this problem in the case study of global poverty measurement as a field located at the interface of science and policy.Methods: This is a comparative case study of poverty measurement in the World Bank and UNICEF. Data was collected through semi-structured interviews with 40 experts employed by the two organisations.Findings: The analysis posits expert legitimacy as constructed via navigation between specific practices of knowledge production, such as the production of policy-relevant and methodologically robust knowledge, a strategic distance between the research and the political setting aimed at extending or shortening the distance between experts and policymakers, and institutionalised cultures of evidence of the organisations through which expert advice is given.Discussion and conclusion: The paper offers a theorisation of expert legitimacy as symbiotic negotiation between technocratic and political modes of accountability which are irrevocably linked while remaining strategically separated.<br />Key messages<br /><ul><li>The legitimacy of experts is underpinned by a dual logic of political and technocratic accountability.</li><br /><li>The paper proposes expert legitimacy as an interplay of three levels: epistemic, individual actor and institutional.</li><br /><li>The tension between technocracy and politics is enacted on all three levels through practices of evidence production and exchange as well as institutional evidence culture.</li></ul>
Performance assessment is permeating increasingly diverse domains of higher education, even in areas previously perceived to be too complex and idiosyncratic to quantify. The UK's attempts to assess 'research impact' within the Research Excellence Framework (REF) are illustrative of this trend and are being closely monitored by several other countries. A fundamental rationale for employing narrative case studies to assess impact within REF, rather than taking a (less resource intensive) quantified approach, was that this would allow for the variation, complexity and idiosyncrasy inherent in research impact. This paper considers whether this promise of narrative flexibility has been realised, by analysing a combination of REF impact case study reports and interviews and focus group discussions with actors involved in case study production. Informed by this analysis, our central argument is that the very quality which allows narratives to govern is their ability to standardise performance (albeit whilst retaining a degree of flexibility). The paper proposes that REF impact case studies position narratives of impact as technologies of governance in ways that restrict the 'plot line' and belie the far more complex accounts held by those working to achieve research impact. This is partly because, as research impact becomes institutionalised within universities' measurement infrastructures, higher education institutions become impact gatekeepers, filtering out narratives that are deemed overly complex or insufficiently persuasive, while perpetuating particular approaches to recounting tales of impact that are deemed likely to perform well. Crucially, these narratives not only describe impact but actively construct it as an auditable phenomenon.
Despite the multiplicity of actors, crises, and fields of action, global public policy has known one constant, that is, the ubiquity of indicators in the production of governing knowledge. This article theoretically engages with the phenomenon of hyper-quantification of global governance in the context of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), debated and introduced in 2015. Increasingly metrics—such as indicators and quantified data to monitor targets and goals—are no longer just tools of governance but rather are emblematic of the new types of political cultures, enabling an interplay of material, techno-political, and organizational structures within which (statistical) knowledge is produced, disseminated, and translated into global public policy. The paper unpacks this complexity by proposing a new theoretical approach to quantification as an “epistemic infrastructure,” which emerges across three levels: materialities (such as data and indicators), interlinkages (such as networks and communities), and paradigms (such as new ways of doing policy work). Using the lens of the “epistemic infrastructure” on the SDGs, this article and the others in this special issue analyze the ways that quantified knowledge practices—in widely varying policy arenas, scales, and geographic regions—are at the heart of the production of its global public policy.
Over the last 20 years, the notion of relevance vis-à-vis political science became not only a subject of academic debates but also a domain of practice, largely due to the developments in the research funding, increasingly referred to as the 'impact agenda'. In this article, we explore how the growing focus on socio-economic impact as the assessment criterion of research funding shapes the discipline of political science itself-its knowledge production, dissemination and the emergent forms of accountability of political scientists. The article presents the results of a major international study that has examined the emergence of 'impact agendas' across 33 countries. We report on the changing idea of relevance of political science through the lens of its strategic ambiguity and historical evolution. We then explore these broader trends through an in-depth analysis of the UK as an 'extreme case' and a blueprint for funding system reforms. These developments, we argue, are not a mere funding policy innovation but rather a paradigm-level change, reshaping the position of political science in society as well as the types of scholarship that are possible and incentivised.
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