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The Impact Agenda: Controversies, Consequences and Challenges

When: Thursday, April 25, 2024, 3:00 PM - 4:30 PM
Where: Online and Common Room 313, Laws Building, Queen Mary University of London, Mile End Road, E1 4NS

A talk for QM academics and students by Professor Kat Smith (University of Strathclyde) reflecting on some of the findings from her co-authored book The Impact Agenda: Controversies, Consequences and Challenges (Policy Press, 2020)

Over the past 15 years, core research funders and higher education institutes across the UK have embraced the idea of ‘research impact’ as a central tenet of academic work. For academics with a commitment to effecting ‘real world’ change, and working collaboratively with members of the public, policymakers, activists, businesses or practitioners, some of these changes feel welcome. However, changes of this nature and scale inevitably bring challenges as well as opportunities. While some academics feel more supported to undertake the externally facing work they always wanted to do, or have newly discovered a propensity for, others feel the kind of work that motivated them to enter academia is now being restricted, in favour of that with more immediate, obvious or ‘sellable’ impacts. The kinds of work that academics have suggested is under threat in UK universities include curiosity-driven, ‘blue skies’ research, theoretically orientated intellectual work, critical analyses of external activities (e.g. of policy decisions and documents), and more broadly a dissenting type of public intellectualism. This is no small threat. Indeed, for some commentators, the UK’s impact agenda represents a fundamental challenge to the role that universities have traditionally played, and in their view should play, in society; a threat to the ‘academic freedom and institutional autonomy [that give universities] the freedom to critique the moronic machinations of democracy.’ (Anonymous, 2008, cited in Hofmeyr, 2008). From this perspective, the impact agenda is challenging academics’ ability to contribute to social justice and critical citizenship. This talk will draw on the findings of a co-authored book, The Impact Agenda: Controversies, Consequences and Challenges (Policy Press, 2020), which used qualitative (interview and documentary) data to explore the various concerns that have been articulated, but will supplement this with some reflections on more recent developments. The talk will argue that the impact agenda is changing academic working lives and practices in the UK, informing the kinds of work and shaping the kinds of academics who are appointed and promoted, albeit with variations across disciplines and institutions. It will conclude by setting out some suggestions for an alternative approach to supporting academics to engage with external audiences.

About the Speaker 

Kat Smith is a Professor of Public Health Policy at the Strathclyde School of Social Work and Social Policy, where she co-directs the Centre for Health Policy. Her principal research interests are the dynamics of policy change and the relationships between evidence, expertise, policy, practice and publics, particularly for issues relating to public health and inequalities. Her previous books include ‘Beyond Evidence-Based Public Health Policy: The Interplay of Ideas (Palgrave Macmillan, October 2013), and British Medical Association award-winning edited collection, ‘Health Inequalities: Critical Perspectives’ (Oxford University Press 2016). Kat is Co-Editor of the book series Palgrave Studies in Science, Knowledge & Policy and edited Evidence & Policy 2018-2021.

The event is organised by the School of Law and supported by the IHSS. If you would like to join online, please email or 

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