Research at Risk

Policy and metrics at the 2016 ARMA Conference

I was lucky enough to attend the ARMA (Association of Research Managers and Administrators) Conference early in June 2016. As a first-time delegate and speaker I was hugely impressed by the range and quality of presentations and, indeed, delegates. With 800 delegates and a packed, varied two-and-a-half day programme there was a lot to engage with – and the quality of the conference organisation and venue made it easy to do so.

Jisc had a stand over the two main days of the conference, and we also offered a packed presentation on day two covering Research Data (in particular the Research Data Shared Service, and data usage metrics) and our recently relaunched suite of Open Access focused work. John Kaye, Frank Manista from the OA team, Caroline Ingram and Tamsin Burland (pictured) also attended parts of the conference.

Jisc's stand at the ARMA conference 2016
(Tamsin Burland welcomes you to the well-stocked Jisc stand… a lot of these publications were taken away by eager ARMA delegates)

Those who know me will be aware that I am a little bit of a policy wonk, so I was delighted to see speakers from the Research Councils, Research Fortnight and Universities UK offering an analysis of the many recent changes in research funding policy. What came through particularly strongly was the sheer amount and complexity of proposed change – you would have to go back to William Waldegrave or, as Dame Julia Goodfellow suggested, RD Haldene to see a similar radical ambition.

Both Goodfellow and – opening day one – Phil Sooben and Ehsan Masood  (links are to my live notes from the plenaries) offered an account and analysis of recent changes focused on the regulatory and funding apparatus. What came through clearly was the potential effect on the ARMA constituency, and the informed and thoughtful nature of the debate. Questions came thick and fast on the effect of the proposed UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) not just on the priorities for research funding but – crucially – on the process. As ARMA members will often be the first point of advice for researchers interfacing with the funding system it is clear that after the conference they will be able to offer a huge amount of insight.

Continuing on my own personal policy wonk conference track, I was hugely glad to see James Wilsdon, who offered an extemporised and hugely revealing take on ground covered in “The Metric Tide” and his Wonkhe article on the Stern Review. Stern, of course, will define the course of the next REF (expected in 2021 or 2022), and James’ superb “Metric Tide” (and the continuing work on “responsible metrics”) should be a key part of the attempt to realise the potential benefits of research metrics whilst avoiding unintended negative consequences.

I had chance to speak to  and hear most of the major “metrics” organisations (in particular Thompson Reuters, Plumb and Altmetric) on their current and proposed offers aimed at research managers. At present focus seems to be on the range of available metrics and the attractiveness of the presentation and user interface – whilst it is good to see efforts to make metrics more useable I would have loved to have seen more on the way metrics are understood and could “safely” be used to analyse the impact of research. I think that it is important that metrics are presented in ways that support responsible use, and I’d love to see more work in this area.

On this note I was glad to have the chance to present about some of the Jisc work around data metrics, alongside Frank Manista from the OA team on some of their work around article metrics (see slides below). Frank’s poster had already seen significant social media interest. But the real interest in our session concerned John Kaye’s presentation on the Research Data Shared Service – though few in the ARMA audience were actively working on Data Management, there was a general feeling in the room that this is something that research managers have on their horizon. The RDSS has a real chance to meet many of these emerging needs, and correspondingly John’s session was derailed by questions many times.

By dkernohan

Senior co-design manager, Jisc.