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Research in the arts and humanities deserves wider recognition for the broad range of palpable contributions it is making to the life of the nation, a new report suggests.

RAND Europe have not taken the common route of focusing only on the obvious types of immediate impact this research has.

Professor Simon Franklin

The independent study was carried out by the policy research organisation, RAND Europe, and was commissioned jointly by the University of Cambridge and the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). It will be publicly available from Thursday, June 10th, via the RAND Europe website (http://www.rand.org/pubs/technical_reports/TR816/)

The aim of the study is to explore, using Cambridge as an example, how university research in the arts and humanities is serving society, and how that impact might be effectively and appropriately measured. The study indicates that such research is producing a wide variety of identifiable "vital public benefits".

Evidence was drawn both from a survey of almost 300 researchers, and from in-depth interviews and case studies carried out both inside and beyond the University.

In part, it is hoped that the report will inform the development of future models for the assessment of research in the UK, for which the quantifiable impact of that research is likely to be an important concern.

More broadly, however, the document aims to provide a workable model that other universities and research institutions could use to track and assess the benefits research in their own arts and humanities faculties is having.

"This survey is unusual in its depth and breadth," Professor Simon Franklin, Head of the School of Arts and Humanities at the University of Cambridge, said.

"RAND Europe have not taken the common route of focusing only on the obvious types of immediate impact this research has. Their report also confronts the more difficult and fundamental questions of the longer-term impact of in-depth, curiosity-driven research. It should play a significant role in taking forward this debate, which has become so important both to the funding bodies and to the universities themselves."

Unlike some of the sciences, the assessment of the impact of arts and humanities subjects is still very much in its infancy. Some view it as an almost impossible task, not least because the effects of studying subjects such as literature or philosophy seem less tangible than those of disciplines like medicine and engineering.

Although the RAND Europe survey accepts that the fruits of arts and humanities scholarship cannot always be measured in full, it also finds that in a surprising number of cases, their impact can be traced.

The authors used a model called the "Payback Framework" which combines various categories of benefit from research with a logic model of each research project from start to finish. Every stage of the project is linked to the ensuing outcomes, giving a sense of the breadth and scale of impact across the project as a whole.

Using this model, the report reflects the sheer scope of impact that arts and humanities research is having. At one level, the study argues that the research and teaching undertaken by academics on a daily basis is itself having an effect by "seeping into intellectual life" and enhancing and developing public understanding.

Beyond this, however, large numbers of University scholars appear to be shaping society by other means. About 64% of the survey respondents said that their work had influenced policy-making, more than one third saw ways in which their research had affected the development of business or professional practice, and an "overwhelming majority" reported that their scholarship had been communicated to a wider audience at national or international level.

The report cites numerous cases which illustrate the sheer variety of ways in which that public impact is taking place. Large numbers of academics have, for example, been involved in preserving forms of national or international heritage.

In one case, a linguist's work in Guernsey had stimulated a revival in the Island's disappearing French dialect, while researchers in the Faculty of English had made a collection of unique medieval manuscripts, too fragile to use in their original form, internationally available online.

Other academics either take part in or influence the leisure and entertainment industry, by taking part in arts festivals, organising exhibitions, or translating and informing the performance of works of music or plays. Large numbers also provide the public with expert analysis through the media. Increasingly, they are reaching people directly through their own podcasts and blogs.

The report argues not only that this breadth needs to be taken into account when measuring impact, but that universities and funding bodies should continue to explore and communicate the potential impact of arts and humanities research, not least because individual researchers may be unaware of the potential value of the work with which they are engaged.

Full copies of the report, Assessing the impact of arts and humanities research at the University of Cambridge can be downloaded from the website, http://www.rand.org/pubs/technical_reports/TR816/


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