It’s important to strive for societal impact, but how to evaluate this?

Erasmus University's motto is "Creating positive societal impact". This comes from the aim to be closely linked to society and to be able to make a positive impact through research. But what is impact, and how do you make it visible, or even measurable? The new (video) series "Impact in Sight" shows concrete examples of how to evaluate impact.

In this first episode, professor of Public Administration Arwin van Buuren, speaks about his research into stimulating self-organizing capacity of citizen initiatives such as in the Middelland district in Rotterdam. In this district, van Buuren and his team worked together with the municipality of Rotterdam and the initiative by inhabitants ‘Mooi, Mooier, Middelland’. These citizens' initiatives are important for the municipality, but to make them successful it is crucial to be able to evaluate and monitor their impact as well. "Our research helps the municipality to stimulate local initiatives. For example, by examining how collaboration with these initiatives can be improved”, says van Buuren.

Bring approach in line with goals

According to van Buuren, it is important to be able to determine the social impact of the university. That’s the only way you can connect an approach to your goals. To make that possible, he is Academic Lead of the Evaluating Societal Impact project team. “By doing this we can evaluate our impact in a smarter way, but it also makes you accountable to your financiers, the ministry, and society itself. It starts with formulating a clear ambition, then you can also evaluate what you achieve.”

Indicators differ per discipline

The project team will therefore be looking for methods and approaches to evaluate impact at university-wide level for the next 4 years. That is certainly not easy, because the indicators of impact are as varied as the impact itself. “When you invent a new medicine, it is relatively easy to show how many lives it saves,” the professor explains. "This is a hopeless task for a sociologist, and you will have to work with different indicators in that case."

Science is so much more than numbers and publications

Tung Tung Chan, Research intelligence Advisor, amplifies that numbers alone are not enough. She stresses it is important to value both qualitative and quantitative science. You also need stories and examples in her eyes. “This way you stimulate to look beyond numbers, and you get stories that you can be proud of. Science is about so much more than just publishing. That is why as a university you must also encourage and support scientists to make an impact in areas that are important to them.”

According to Arwin van Buuren, the project team succeeds if there is a framework at the end of the process to properly evaluate impact for all disciplines. "My dream is that there is a well-functioning system for all research groups and faculties to be able to appreciate impact."

Impact in Sight - Arwin van Buuren

Related content

“How we can assess, value and enhance our societal impact?”

Prof.dr. Arwin van Buuren gaat, in een vierjarig project, uitzoeken hoe de EUR haar maatschappelijke impact kan vaststellen, evalueren en versterken.

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