Towards Convergence in Research Assessment

I have a short article in the latest edition of LINK, the magazine of the European Association of Research Managers and Administrators.

You can look up my text on page 14 above, and for convenience here is the text version:

Open Science is on everyone’s lips these days. There are many reasons why this shift is necessary and wanted, and also several hurdles. One big challenge is the lack of incentives and rewards. Underlying this is the question of what we want to incentivize and reward, which ultimately boils down to the way we assess research and researchers. This is not a small thing. After all, we are talking about the cornerstone of people’s careers, whether an inspiring academic gets a job, promotion, and project funding.

Most research institutions and funding bodies have clear criteria in place for research assessment. Some of these are more qualitative, typically based on some kind of peer review. Others are more quantitative, often based on some metrics related to publications. With increasing time pressure, the latter is often the easiest solution. This is the reason why simplified metrics have become popular, of which citation counts (H-index, etc.) and/or journal impact factors (JIF) are the most popular. The problem is that such simple numbers do not even try to reveal the complex, multidimensional reality of academic practice. This type of metric also actively discourages academic activities beyond journal publications, including a large part of Open Science activities, such as code and data sharing, education, and so on.

From my own perspective, both as a researcher, research leader, and former head of department, I have been involved in numerous committees assessing both researchers and research over the last decade. I know the Norwegian landscape best, but have also sat on committees in numerous other countries in Europe and North America, as well as for the European Research Council. My experience is that all the institutions have clear criteria in place, but they differ largely in naming, interpretation and weighting.

What is the solution? In my opinion we need to work towards convergence on assessment criteria. There are currently several initiatives being undertaken, of which I am fortunate to be involved in the one coordinated by the European University Association (EUA). Inspiration is coming from the Open Science Career Evaluation Matrix (OS-CAM), which was proposed by the “Working Group on Rewards under Open Science” to the European Commission in 2017. The OS-CAM is organized into six main topics: (1) Research Output, (2) Research Process, (3) Service And Leadership, (4) Research Impact, (5) Teaching and Supervision, (6) Professional Experience. Each of these have a set of criteria, so there is a total of 23 criteria to assess, several of which target Open Science practices directly.

Many people will recognize the OS-CAM criteria from their own research assessment experience. It may not be that the proposed criteria are the ones that we will end up with. But if we within European institutions can agree on certain common topics and criteria to use when assessing researchers and research, we have taken a giant step forward in acknowledging the richness of academic activity, including that of Open Science practices.

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alexarje

Alexander Refsum Jensenius is a music researcher and research musician living in Oslo, Norway.