Accepted Paper:

Scientific Impact, Social Relevance and Excellent Science: An Isosceles Triangle?  


Irene Ramos-Vielba (INGENIO (CSIC-UPV))
Richard Woolley (INGENIO (CSCI-UPV))
Pablo D'Este
Ana Fernandez-Zubieta (Universidad Complutense de Madrid)

Paper short abstract:

A focus on scientific impact seems to be predominant both in the rhetoric and the evaluating practices of excellence, neglecting the social relevance of research. Using a qualitative approach, we compare researchers’ opinions and experiences on these matters in the Spanish context.

Paper long abstract:

Science policies reward researchers on the basis of a widespread notion of excellence associated with scientific impact. This reward system has decisive consequences for shaping scientists' behaviour by orienting their research goals. However, much of scientists' personal sense of achievement and social recognition comes from their perceived contribution to societal needs and challenges. In this sense, a research gap exists regarding the imbalance between concepts of impact and relevance shaping the discourse and the assessment of scientific excellence. In this study we trace the meanings that researchers give to their achievement of both scientific impact and social relevance and how these perceptions influence their research agendas and knowledge transfer practices.

Our methodological approach focuses on qualitative content analysis drawing on a set of interviews conducted with Spanish researchers between October 2015 and March 2016. The interviewees (10 men and 10 women) work at public research organisations (universities and research centres) in a wide range of scientific disciplines. We compare researchers' views, perspectives and experiences in the field of Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts with those in the STEM disciplines. Taking as a point of departure researchers' own selection of key results in their scientific careers, we analyse their perceptions on three elements: scientific impact, social relevance and excellent science.

Our preliminary findings suggest that scientists' differentiated narratives about scientific excellence influence whether they embrace interaction with non-academic actors within their research agendas. Understanding the main factors and dynamics influencing researchers' thinking about excellence in science has potentially important policy implications.

Panel T020
Governing Excellent Science