Research evaluation and the assessment of public value

Jordi Molas-Gallart
Arts & Humanities in Higher Education

Funding organisations are increasingly asking academics to show evidence of the economic

and social value generated by their research. These requests have often been

associated with the emergence of a so-called ‘new social contract for research’ and are

related to the implementation of new research evaluation systems. Although the

research evaluation rhetoric is similar across countries and organisations, in practice

evaluation can fulfil very different purposes. Additionally, the assessment of the public

value of research poses different challenges depending on the academic field under

analysis. This paper distinguishes three main research evaluation goals: to inform the

distribution of public resources among competing objectives or performers, to help

improve the implementation of policies and programmes, and to control the use of

public funds. It then argues that assessing the value of research in the arts and humanities

calls for a research methodology capable of providing a fine-grained understanding

of the variety of, often diffuse, ways in which arts and humanities research can generate

value. The methods that we need to do this are better suited to fulfil the improvement

goal of evaluation, and require a ‘formative’ approach to evaluation supporting the social

engagement of academic researchers.