The Impact Agenda in the Arts and Humanities

In this podcast Mark Carrigan talks to Dr Nadine Lewycky, Arts Impact Officer at the University of Warwick about what her work involves and broader issues relating to the impact agenda for the arts and humanities. For more information about her work see here.

Posted on June 12, 2011, in Podcasts and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Thanks for posting this. What Nadine seemed to be saying – amongst other things – was that the Impact Agenda was actually as much about adopting a particular language or way of packaging things as about doing something different. So I suppose my concern would be with the reasons for doing this. Why do we need to highlight collaborations between university departments of humanities and museums, schools, theatres etc etc in terms of ‘impact’ or ‘knowledge transfer/exchange’ when these things have been going on for years in one way or another, under different headings or terms? What is actually to be gained in this way? Obviously Nadine would want to deflect the criticism or suspicion that the emphasis on impact is mostly about increasing the funding implications of research in humanities in ways that are suited to a particular kind of business related process. ‘It’s not just about money’. So if it’s not just about money what is the relationship between adopting this management oriented language – this form of representation – and what actually happens. Do we know that adopting these kinds of terms actually increases (non- economic, non funding related) activity and results in changes within the target audience? How would we know this when the terms we are using are fundamentally related to forms of standardised testing that by definition can only register a pre-determined range of outcomes. (How, for example, would we apply the criterion of ‘impact’ to the kind of change that takes a lifetime to achieve?)

    Of course I know this critique of forms of standardisation (in this case, setting up a range of documented forms of influence and testing these against performance – forms of KPIs (key performance indicators) in other words) is becoming pretty standard itself these days! Nevertheless standardised testing is now so much a part of the way in which we account for any kind of value that people easily forget that it isn’t merely ‘common sense’ and that there might be other ways of doing this. The research undertaken in University departments of Humanities might, for example, be of value because it pertains to the formation of a ruling elite, or to an idea of the human, or because increasing our knowledge of the world is a religious obligation. I am not, of course, suggesting that we should adopt these alternative ways of expressing the significance of study and research in the humanities – just noting the possibility that the language of impact might be carrying more ideological freight than it seems at first glance, and that it is therefore important to keep on interrogating the motives of those who insist that we should use it.

    I think much of what Nadine described as part of her job seemed admirable and supportive. This is not in any sense a criticism of her professionalism at Warwick but simply a contribution to a much wider debate about the emphasis on Impact in HE.

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