Talk given at Sydney University on 4 August 2015.
Across many parts of our lives we are faced with the increasing availability of data to support decision making. With every element of the research process moving online, there are many new sources of data, as well as improved old sources of data, that can provide information on the performance, value and use of research and researchers.
But there is a problem. The proliferation of proxy data, and their naive equation with such weakly defined concepts as “quality” and “excellence”, have lead to a reliance on rankings and quantitative measures as institutional targets. More than this the adoption of these instrumental targets has lead us away from a critical discussion of institutional values, indeed of what the institution is for.
I will argue that it is only by moving away from such vague terms as “quality”, “excellence” and “impact” and focussing on institutional values and a well articulated mission that institutions of scholarship will continue to be relevant for the future. It is through interrogating the goals of the institution that the enormous potential resource of data on the research enterprise can be realised. Using the data effectively will allow us a window on how knowledge actually moves and is used. In combination with a clear sense of institutional goals this provides great opportunities for institutions to differentiate themselves from the pack.