The measurement tail should not be wagging the impact dog

Helen Sowey, smilingHelen Sowey was Senior Research Support Officer at the Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences, UNSW, from August 2017 to October 2018. Prior to this, she spent 20 years working as a practitioner in the health, justice, and social services sectors. Contact helen.sowey@gmail.com.

This is an edited version of a paper presented at the Australasian Research Management Society Conference, Hobart, 20 September 2018.


A pop art representation of a puppy dog, mostly in different shades of blue

‘Blue Dog’ by Romero Britto. Photo by Jonathan O’Donnell.

Australia’s Engagement and Impact Assessment encourages universities to ensure that their research is of benefit to the world beyond academia.

Or does it?

Having spent more than a year in a dedicated “engagement and impact” research support role, I am concerned to see that institutions tend to be narrowly focused on the task of showing evidence of engagement and impact, rather than thinking about what kind of impact their work might have and what kinds of engagement would allow that to happen.

This is problematic, because knowing what kind of impact is intended is a logically prior step to collecting evidence of it! If you don’t know what you are aiming for, you can hardly hope to achieve it, much less document it.

The focus on showing evidence is also problematic because it shifts attention away from creating impact, which is something grand, visionary and inspiring, towards creating only the kind of impact that is measurable – a smaller, more individualistic, and potentially less relevant endeavour. Read more of this post

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Getting with the PID programme

Dr Barbara Lemon is a member of the FREYA project team at the British Library.

She is an accidental aficionado of libraries, beginning her career as a historian, researcher and tutor in Australian History at the University of Melbourne. She has since worked in the government, tertiary, business and non-profit sectors.

After completing a Creative Fellowship at State Library Victoria, Barbara began working in strategy and project management for national and state libraries in Australia and New Zealand.

She is passionate about making our heritage and research resources linked and discoverable. The Twitter account for FREYA is @freya_eu.


If you’re a researcher in any field, chances are you want people to find, read and use your stuff, right?

You probably want them to continue finding it, using it and correctly attributing it to you, whether it’s twenty days or twenty years after publication. In our current state of digital deluge, we’re pretty good on the twenty days. It’s the twenty years where we come unstuck.

Photo by Mathyas Kurmann | unsplash.com

Photo by Mathyas Kurmann | unsplash.com

Enter the persistent identifier, or PID. Slayer of the Error 404 message!

A PID is a long-lasting, unambiguous reference to a digital object. That object could be a journal article, dataset, scientific sample, artwork, PhD thesis, publication or person, you name it.

The PID essentially takes you to a record containing metadata about that object or person including, where applicable, its current location for access or download.

The great thing about PIDs is that they stay put. If the location of an object changes, the metadata behind its PID record can be updated by automated or manual processes to reflect that new location. The location of the PID itself – the record of the object – doesn’t change. Read more of this post

Five benefits of a writing ‘system’

Chris Smith is co-founder of Prolifiko and interested in using behavioural science, neuroscience and positive persuasive technology to unlock human potential.

He’s also a consultant to academic publishers and higher education advising on marketing and digital strategy, design thinking and the future of edtech.

Chris is a former founder of Swarm, a content and digital marketing agency, and a former lecturer in social psychology, continental philosophy and aesthetics.

Prolifiko tweets from @beprolifiko.


Working hands (photo by madamepsychosis on flickr) | www.flickr.com/photos/belljar

Working hands (photo by madamepsychosis on flickr) | http://www.flickr.com/photos/belljar

In July, I wrote about Prolifiko’s survey of scholarly writing practice, and our early objectives for that study. We teamed up with two academics and a data insight expert to design a large-scale study into academic writing practice.

So far, the study has gathered responses from 510 academics from over 40 countries and the interim findings build an intriguing picture of how academics write.

The data reveals the highs and lows of the scholarly writing process across a career: when satisfaction (and dissatisfaction) is at its highest, where the blocks come and when external pressure is experienced most acutely.

So far, the role of writing systems seems key.

According to the interim findings, the academics who have developed some kind of ‘system’ to help them write and publish seem far happier and more productive than those who have not. But what is it about having a ‘system’ that helps you get down to work and keep publishing – and how can you develop one of your own? Read more of this post

The effect of impact

This article first appeared in Funding Insight on 20 September 2018 under the title “Don’t fear the bogeyman”. It is reproduced with permission of Research Professional. For more articles like this, visit www.researchprofessional.com.


“I … have made impactful contributions to industry and practice…”

As a research whisperer, I spend my life helping people to refine their grant applications. An important part of that is wielding the ‘big red pen of clarity’, and editing their material to help express their ideas more clearly.

You can imagine my reaction when I read ‘impactful’ in a grant application recently. I was appalled. In the Australian vernacular, I nearly choked on my Weeties. This horror appeared in an otherwise excellent application, written by an otherwise excellent applicant. We had words…

At about the same time, Tim Sherratt tweeted:

André Brett replied,

Read more of this post

Advice on fellowships

A friend of mine is applying for a Fellowship and sent through a draft of her application. This article is based on my advice to her. It is written for the Churchill Fellowships in the UK, but it applies to most fellowships around the world.


Young Winston, looking dashing.

Winston Churchill as a new Member of Parliament in 1901, via Wikimedia Commons

Fellowship applications are hard. They force you to stand alone. You are often applying early in your career, when you feel like you don’t have much to skite about. The temptation to puff yourself up is overwhelming – then you read back on it and it makes you want to vomit, just a bit.

On the other hand, Fellowships allow you to stand out. This is your moment to shine. Your moment in the spotlight.

I guess it all depends on where you stand.

The Winston Churchill Memorial Trust have been giving out fellowships for over 50 years – they have a very clear idea of who they want to fund. So, I’m going to read their guidelines first, and mine them for advice.

Travel to learn – return to inspire…

We fund UK citizens to travel overseas, exploring new ideas, and return with global insights to inspire communities and professions.

These are the Churchill Fellowships – and they’re open to all.

This is the best thumbnail description of a funding agency that I’ve ever read. These should be your watchwords when you are composing your application. Write for this audience. Read more of this post

Should we really write daily?

Chris Smith is a co-founder of Prolifiko who’s interested in using behavioural science, neuroscience and positive persuasive technology to unlock human potential.

Chris is a former founder of Swarm, a content and digital marketing agency with a background working for consultancy firms.

He’s also a London Short Film Festival award-winning script writer and a former lecturer in social psychology, continental philosophy and aesthetics at Staffordshire University.

Prolifiko tweets from @beprolifiko.


The most cited work in the field of ‘academic writing productivity’ is that of Robert Boice from the 1990s. Is it that because there’s been no further research in this area or has nobody bettered his findings?

Photo by NeONBRAND | unsplash.com

Photo by NeONBRAND | unsplash.com

We’ve just launched our own study into academic writing practice. It’s research that we hope will give anyone who needs to write, evidence-based guidance on how to develop a writing system that works for them. It builds on Boice’s work and we’re using startup principles and tools to do it.

Boice’s research was innovative at the time but boiled down, it amounted to one simple scholarly nugget: whatever type of writer you are and whatever type of writing you do, do it daily.

His work has helped thousands to develop an effective practice. It has informed academic writing workshops the world over and made its way into more mainstream productivity advice on all aspects of human habit formation.

Does daily do it?

We’ve worked with and talked to thousands of writers in our work and Boice’s research has always been an inspiration to us. That said, his ‘do it daily’ mantra doesn’t always ring true. It can feel a little outdated in today’s busy world.

For example, our latest (thoroughly non-academic) poll amongst our community found 41% self-identifying as ‘binge writers’ (Boice would seriously not approve!) with just 20% saying they could manage a daily habit.

A regular, daily writing practice might be the gold standard but is it realistic? We decided to find out. Read more of this post

Research commercialisation: Tips for starting your journey

Matt Frith is the managing director of kin8, a strategy consultancy that is building communities around the future of work.

He’s worked with universities including RMIT and the University of Queensland, developing their research and programs to better access the marketplace.

He tweets at @kin8ptyltd.


Photo by Riccardo Annandale | unsplash.com

Photo by Riccardo Annandale | unsplash.com

Research commercialisation can be daunting, but in a landscape of dwindling government funding and ever-shifting technological and commercial realities, it can be a powerful way to bring new ideas and change into the world.

For researchers and academics, however, the businesses, people and language can be so different that it’s almost alien.

The way a researcher or academic thinks, the goals they have to achieve in their career, are very different to those of a corporate department’s director or CEO.

So, how do you begin to feel comfortable exploring the world of research commercialisation?

For this post, we’ve put together some detailed tips, based on our experience working with both researchers and corporate partners. The biggest barriers are often emotional, so these tips are designed to get you both thinking and feeling, along with actions, to start your path forward. Read more of this post