How to measure the relevance of research for society?

Is it possible to quantify the impact that a certain research project has on society? And is it beneficial to attach a societal relevance to research in general? In times of tight research budgets it becomes increasingly important that scientists and universities are able to demonstrate what the impact of their research is. A very important aspect is for example the ability to interact with “the society” in order to find out what current needs are or to convince the taxpayers that basic research is actually important for well-being. But how could this interaction between science and society be measured?

About a year ago I wrote a review paper in which I tried to answer some of the above mentioned questions. As it turns out social media can be a powerful partner to communicate your science while also being useful to assess the impact your research has made on others. An additional dimension social media has to offer is the possibility to actually create “societal relevance” through educating your followers and demonstrating that science can be understood and appreciated by many folks out there and not only a few in the ivory towers.

A very useful (and interesting!) way to measure how fast new research can spread in the digital age has been developed by the people at Altmetric. This tool is able to extract how and where published work is shared in social networks. In my small extracurricular project that I have mentioned above I applied this tool to assess how different scientific fields and universities differ in spreading their scientific results and how these results are perceived by the general public.

As participant of the GPP 2014 program you might be interested in the Altmetric tool and the question how researchers and universities can make their work more appealing to the public. Here is the link to my short paper: TheRelevanceOfResearch.

In case you are specifically interested in the Altmetric tool, there is also a more large-scale study and quantitative assessment of this topic which has been published last year and can be found here.

Feel free to discuss these science communication issues with me. Either by email or in person in a few weeks from now.


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