Beyond REF 2014: The impact of impact assessment on the future of information research

This paper is being presented to the the 14th European Conference on Research Methodology for Business and Management Studies in June. The paper critically examines the impact case studies submitted to REF 2014 under the Communication, Cultural and Media Studies, Library and Information Management Unit of Assessment, and explores the implications the assessment of research impact will have on future Library and Information Science (LIS) researcher behaviour, in terms of research conceptualisation and design, through qualitative interviews.

The assessment of ‘impact’ in academia is a focus of not only research councils but also of nationwide institutional research evaluations. In the UK, it is necessary for academics and their institutions to not only conduct research which has real impact, but to provide evidence of impact beyond academic bibliometrics. This includes evidence of impact on industry, government, wider communities and beyond (REF 2011). In Australia, the Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) requirements for the 2015 reporting indicate research outputs, income, and both applied and esteem measures, are to be used to assess the excellence of research activity (Australian Research Council 2014). In addition the Australian Research Council (ARC) has piloted a new tool, the Excellence in Innovation for Australia (EIA) as a potential companion exercise alongside ERA to measure impact. This paper provides an overview of impact definitions in the UK and Australia, drawing on guidance from research councils and the UK’s Research Excellence Framework (REF). The research assessment environments in both countries are also described. The challenges of research assessment and the introduction of impact into this are discussed. The analysis of four impact case studies, published by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) from the UK, is presented and discussed, and one author offers personal reflections into the construction of an impact case study for REF 2015. The paper ends with discussions on best practice, identified through critical examination of existing frameworks and case studies, on how to incorporate impact into research design ab initio, including anticipated and unanticipated impacts, as well as the collection of evidence to demonstrate these. At a time when the importance of impact is growing in the demonstration of institutional and personal research excellence and esteem, the paper contributes to an area of very significant dialogue and reflection for the research community, of value to both early career and senior researchers.

Rita Marcella, Hayley Lockerbie and Lyndsay Bloice


Conference Season

Spring has most definitely arrived but we’re already looking towards summer and conference season. This year we are preparing for attending two conferences; the 14th European Conference on Research Methodology for Business and Management Studies (ECRM) ( and i3 2015 (information: interactions and impact We have attended both conferences before, 2 years ago, and look forward to attending both conferences again this summer! Each conference is unique in location, subject coverage and paper submission procedure, which we detail below.


The ECRM conference is this year being held in Valetta, Malta on 11-12th June. The University of Malta was established in 1592 and the conference is being hosted in the original baroque building – an exciting prospect! The ECRM conference attracts a wide range of researchers from various disciplines and institutions globally. The conference has 5 streams; Educational Context, Mini track on Mixed Methods Research, Qualitative Methods, Mini track on Sharing Research Stories of Elicitation and Analysis in Narrative Inquiry, and Knowledge Management and Collective Intelligence. We are presenting a paper in the Educational Context stream titled “The Challenge of Demonstrating the Impact of Research Beyond Traditional Mechanisms”. We have co-authored the paper with Dr Roslyn Cameron from Curtin University in Australia.


The i3 conference is held much closer to home, here at RGU, on 23-26th June. The i3 conference equally attracts a global audience from a range of backgrounds, and the conference gives an opportunity for exchange between practitioners and academics with interests in: the quality and effectiveness of information interactions; patterns of information behaviour in different contexts; social, cultural and economic impacts of engagement with information; and, the value of information and knowledge as enablers of resilience and change. We are presenting a paper, along with Lyndsay Bloice from RGU, titled “Beyond REF 2014: The impact of impact assessment on the future of information research”.


Both conferences have taken a different approach to paper submission. ECRM required an abstract (max. 500 words) to be submitted by December 2014, and if accepted after peer review, a full final paper was to be submitted by 8th January 2015. As authors, we now need to prepare slides for the actual conference and decide how we will most effectively present our paper to an international audience. Accepted papers are published in conference proceedings (subject to author registration and payment), and presented papers are considered for publication in a special issue of the Electronic Journal of Business Research Methods.


For the i3 conference, an abstract (max. 1000 words) was submitted for a full paper presentation by 28th January 2015. This was peer reviewed, provisionally accepted subject to amendments, and resubmitted by 30th March 2015. The paper was then accepted and data analysis began promptly! There are no published conference proceedings for i3 however accepted full papers are invited to submit to the Journal of Information Science by 30th September 2015. Acceptance of a paper for the conference does not guarantee acceptance of the paper for publication in the journal. As authors, we are currently analysing data ready for presenting in June, and will prepare the full paper during this period and continue to do so after the conference. This allows for the full paper to reflect any areas which arise during the presentation and the following questions. Let’s just hope the weather in Aberdeen this summer is as nice as we’re sure it will be in Malta!


Professor Rita Marcella and Hayley Lockerbie

Capturing European (Dis)integration?

April 15, 2015, an apt date on which to try to capture some sense of the complex and contrary meaning and significance of “integration” within Europe. For those seeking to put more distance between the UK and the European Union (the EU), the UKIP election manifesto has today promised voters to call for a rapid in/out referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU ( Nothing surprising there, except to note the extent to which UKIP’s whole original raison d’être (leaving the EU) has conveniently, for them, increasingly coalesced with the immigration and border control debate. Of course, should the UKIP stance prove sufficiently popular with some of the electorate come 7 May it is precisely this EU referendum issue which is likely to determine future governance and possibly the future structure of the UK. The SNP have made it abundantly clear, both last September and now, that they will not support UK exit from the EU: “Speaking during the debate in Aberdeen, SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon said the party would only press for another independence referendum if something material changed – such as Scotland being ”dragged out” of the EU.” (

So, viewed from inside these shores, the EU issue is the perennial hot potato which dominates UK politics without ever really permitting a deeper level of debate on what being part of the EU really signifies. No short answers to that one but two items in the news today suggest that, whatever nation state level positions on the EU may be, there are still over arching and important reasons why close cooperation between European countries is worthwhile and necessary.

Today was the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp by British soldiers ( April 15th 1945 was a day on which the common humanity of all of us, as Europeans, was recognised. It was the dreadful encounter with the reality of Belsen, and similar places across Eastern Europe, which led directly to the human rights based instruments, institutions and values which underlie and inform European integration today. Nobody would claim that this integration process is perfect, far from it, but today, as we see the many terrible images of Belsen, it is a critical reminder of why Europeans from 28 countries are bonded together in Brussels.

And yet, just as we commemorate the liberation, we learn that 400 people have drowned today trying to get into this fractured, contested and wrangled entity that is Europe ( The issue of in or out for these boat people is a matter of life and death rather than a political football and it is one which has exposed a fundamental weakness in integration in European. The EU has overtly failed to develop a strategy to respond to the thousands of people dying to get to EU shores each year ( Juxtaposed with our recall of past tragedies today it might be wondered if we might all, UKIP included, benefit from more serious and considered reflection upon what it means to be part of a European integration process.


Carole Lyons



Takata recall – Quality more than just an airbag of hot air

takata_recallWe often take it for granted in the 21st century that if a product is presented in a “new box” or a service at “new location” quality is inherent or explicit. The case of Takata airbag recall refutes this premise.

Takata supplies automotive safety systems controlling 22% of the global automotive airbag market. The company’s mission statement emphasises their commitment to quality which is to “Develop innovative products and provide superlative quality and services to achieve total customer satisfaction”.

This emphasis on quality is reinforced by an organisational approach the “Takata Way” that supports open effective communication openly and effectively and an adherence to Sangen-shugi the exploration of three “realities” which is comprised of Gen-ba or going to the location of the activity/problem e.g. the factory floor, Gen-butsu looking at problem first hand and Gen-jitsu gathering the facts to make a decision – reality based decision making.

Despite this organisational philosophy Takata finds itself asleep at the wheel. Its flagship automotive airbag has allegedly been linked with the deaths of at least five motorists and over 139 injuries. The problem being a product defect that is only realised during the deployment of the airbag resulting in the rupturing of the inflator, sending metal fragments that have fatally injured unsuspecting users it was intended to protect. Potential causes for the airbag defects range from poor product handling, incorrect gas specifications, humid conditions, faulty welding to malfunctioning manufacturing equipment.

The company was fully aware of the potential for the airbag to rupture during deployment 10 years prior to the recall but opted not to face the “reality” subsequently requesting the destruction of in-house test results and disposal of any evidence in essence creating a climate of fear amongst employees. Top management rather than implementing corrective action chose a default strategy of “do nothing” focusing on the bottom line not the triple bottom-line.

This strategic decision has resulted in the recall of over 14 million airbags from 11 different automakers and the allocation of over $655 million for quality costs. The reputational damage suffered by Takata is contributing to investor unease arising from reduced profit outlook and customer dissatisfaction with market share set to decline to 11% by 2020. Fortunately Takata has decided to “wake up to reality” taking steps to refocus the organisation efforts on quality by constituting an expert panel to examine the quality and safety issues. Quality not perception is reality.

From  Sustainability & CSR Insights.

Posted by Lowellyne James

RiCORE – our new Horizon 2020 project

Aberdeen Business School is leading on a new Horizon 2020 project, RiCORE, which is looking at ways of accelerating and streamlining environmental impact and consenting requirements associated with offshore wind, wave and tidal projects

The RiCORE consortium has been awarded €1.4 million from the European Commission and comprises teams from Ireland, Spain, Portugal, France and Scotland.

Consenting and environmental impacts are one of the key barriers to the deployment of offshore energy. The survey costs involved in carrying out full environmental impact assessments, and collecting data over two to three years, can be prohibitive particularly for relatively small scale arrays. While large projects will always be a need to collect a lot of environmental data. RiCORE is looking at ways of speeding the process up for smaller schemes in marine zones that are less vulnerable, through identifying types of schemes that are relatively low risk. The RiCORE team anticipate that the project will potentially lead to developments with low risk profiles being fast tracked.

The second aim of RiCORE is to consider how to standardise environmental monitoring once schemes are in the water. This will assist policymakers to compare and understand the environmental effects of different devices.

RiCORE started in January 2015 and will run for 18 months. IMaGeS is leading on behalf of the Offshore Renewables Institute, a collaboration between Robert Gordon University and the Universities of Dundee and Aberdeen.

More details can be found on the project website:

Posted by: David Gray, Project coordinator

Will a seven-way television debate give the audience a better experience?

British political broadcasting enters new territory on Thursday 2 April with a live multi-party political leaders debate. While the general election campaign in 2010 saw the introduction of such televised debates, these consisted – at the most – of three leaders. However, on Thursday, television viewers will experience a seven-way debate with the leaders of the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat parties being joined by the leaders of the Greens, UKIP, Plaid Cymru and the SNP.

For many viewers, the closest they will have come to a debate with so many party leaders will have been an episode of the Danish political drama Borgen. However, those who watched the debates surrounding the Scottish Independence Referendum in the autumn of last year will have already had a similar experience.

While the majority of media interest focused on the two ‘heavy-weight’ head-to-head debates between Alex Salmond and Alistair Darling in late August 2014, a further debate at the start of September, described as a ‘town-hall’ debate, featured six panellists, including four women. For the Yes side, the team comprised Nicola Sturgeon MSP (SNP), Patrick Harvie MSP (Co-convenor of the Scottish Green party) and Elaine C. Smith, actor and political activist. For the Better Together side the team was Douglas Alexander MP (Labour), Ruth Davidson MSP (leader of the Scottish Conservative party) and Kezia Dugdale MSP (Scottish Labour). Thus the debate teams were made up of four women and two men. In addition, Ruth Davidson is a lesbian and Patrick Harvie is bisexual, meaning that the panel presented to television viewers that evening was diverse in a number of ways – by gender, sexuality and party allegiance.

Researchers from IMaGeS and the Institute for Design, Innovation and Sustainability are undertaking a study of Twitter response to such televised debates. Having already gathered data from the Scottish Referendum debates, we are now gearing up for the General Election debates. Both in the media and on Twitter the two male head-to-head debates were framed in pugilistic terms, with descriptions of ‘fight-backs’, one side or the other being ‘on the ropes’ and encouragement for ‘knock out blows’. Our Twitter sample also complained about the shouty and aggressive nature of the debate, accused both debaters of evading questions and criticised the moderator for not keeping control.

However, the Twitter sample saw the third debate in the Referendum in far more positive terms as far as format, content and conduct of the debate was concerned. The wider diversity of the panel, the inclusion of women, gay and bisexual politicians, and non-politicians, were all identified by the sample as reasons for the debate being less ‘shouty’ and more informative. We argue that the format of the debate was important in achieving a positive audience response and that all involved – male politicians included – were seen more positively after this style of debate.

So what does this mean for the debate on 2 April? Will the inclusion of three women politicians and a more diverse range of political views mean a good and informative viewing experience for television watchers?

We will be following Twitter again to find out.

To find out more about our research on the Referendum, our working paper is published here:

Sarah Pedersen

Leadership: a pernicious doctrine that does nothing for the quality of public services

This is the abstract of a published article.   It has appeared under the title of “Leadership”: a perniciously vague concept, International Journal of Public Sector Management 25(1) 34-47, and it is available here on OpenAir, the RGU’s open access repository.

Purpose – Despite the vast amount of literature covering the concept of leadership, it remains contentious, under-conceptualised and often uncritical. The purpose of this paper is to question the validity of the concept and dispute its application.

Design/methodology/approach – The paper reviews what the idea of leadership means, how it relates to competing accounts of management in the public services, and what value it adds.

Findings – There is no evident reason why the supposed roles, tasks, or qualities of “leadership” either need to be or should be concentrated in the person of a leader; the tasks involved in “leading” an organisation are not in fact the tasks of motivation, influence or direction of others which are at the core of the literature; and there is no reason to suppose that leadership is a primary influence on the behaviour of most organisations.

Practical implications – In the context of the public services, there is no set of skills, behaviours or roles that could be applied across the public services; the emphasis in leadership theory on personal relationships may be inconsistent with the objectives and character of the service; and the arrogation to a public service manager of a leadership role may be illegitimate.

Originality/value – The argument here represents a fundamental challenge to the concept of leadership, its relevance and its application to public services.

Paul Spicker