Developing Indicators for a New ERA: Should We Measure the Policy Impact of Education Research?

Article excerpt

The Australian government has announced its intention to measure the quality of research in Australian universities under the Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) initiative. The process for measuring research quality through the ERA is still being developed but the government has proposed that 'a suite of indicators appropriate to difference disciplines' (Carr, 2008b) is likely to be used and is seeking public input through a consultation process. Using Weiss's (1979) seven models of research utilisation, and Husen's (1994) constraints on policy-makers, this article identifies the many ways in which education research influences policy. The author proposes that the uses of education research should be acknowledged in a research quality assessment process such as the ERA. If the policy influence of education research is not recognised under the new ERA, there is a risk that a narrow suite of indicators will be developed that does not capture the breadth and complexity of education research's impact on policy.

Keywords

educational finance resource allocation educational policy higher education policy analysis promotion (occupational)

Introduction

The Australian government has announced its intention to measure the quality of research in Australian universities under the Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) initiative. The process for measuring research quality through the ERA is still being developed but the government has proposed that 'a suite of indicators appropriate to difference disciplines' is likely to be used and is seeking public input through a consultation process.

This article examines the ERA initiative and discusses the possible threats and opportunities it offers to education researchers. In the interests of contributing to public debate at the consultation stage of the development of the ERA, the author explores the ways in which education research influences policy and discusses how the policy impact of education research might be captured in the new ERA. The article describes the theories of Weiss and Husen in order to illustrate the different ways in which education research influences policy and concludes with a discussion of the ERA initiative and the challenges it presents for the education research community.

How does education research influence policy?

The major end-users of education research are government policymakers and professionals employed in schools and educational institutions. Yet most research in the social sciences, including education, can at best, have an indirect influence on public policy (Wiltshire, 1993). Research in the social sciences is rarely aligned with government policy priorities and is often dismissed as inconclusive or irrelevant to the requirements of decision-makers A common view is that the value of social science research is realised over the long term, as the findings of a body of work 'percolate' through policy communities rather than influence policy development directly (Weiss, 1979). Under the 'percolation model', the major public contribution of research in the social sciences is indirect in that it provides theoretical breakthroughs and paradigm shifts that ultimately influence the context of policy development, rather than driving specific policy decisions.

Weiss's models of research utilisation

When we judge the impact of education research on public policy using traditional concepts of research utilisation based on the natural sciences, it is easy to conclude that educational research is under-utilised in the policy development process. To counter this view, Carol Weiss (1979) identifies seven ways in which research influences public policy, taking into account the unique characteristics of research in the social sciences. Weiss proposes seven models of research utilisation:

1 knowledge-driven

2 problem-solving

3 interactive

4 political

5 tactical

6 enlightenment ('percolation')

7 intellectual enterprise. …