Readings in “value” June 2015 (2)

Benneworth, P. (2015). Tracing how arts and humanities research translates, circulates and consolidates in society. How have scholars been reacting to diverse impact and public value agendas? Arts and Humanities in Higher Education, 14(1), 45–60.

This article was part of a series concentrating on impact and value, and published in the journal Arts and Humanities in Higher Education. Benneworth argues that our history of social progress over recent centuries has been driven by research and technological developments. More recently this has changed, with “a shortening of the time span deemed socially (read: politically) acceptable between state investments and public results.” (Benneworth 2015, 46).

This has led to gloomy predictions for the future of the arts and humanities, in particular those whose practice is funded by central government. There is a widespread belief that the kinds of measures that are being used by policy makers to assess the success or failure of research are ones that fail to capture the true worth of many activities within the arts and humanities. The aim in this paper is to provide case studies of research in the humanities that have had demonstrable impact (at a political and public policy level). The paper also argues that the fact that the original ideas can be traced from the initial researchers, with proof of “knowledge-upscaling” (Benneworth 2015, 46), shows the value and the impact of humanities research.

This is dubbed a “‘traceable upscaling’ vision of research impact” (Benneworth 2015, 48). He contends “that the ‘gloom in the humanities’ arises because humanities research has failed to develop both a coherent model of how research creates wider value and a comparably convincing argument of ‘traceable upscaling’” and argues that “Knowledge transfer sees innovators delineate knowledge for their own purposes, contextualise it, make it definable, define it and ultimately take ownership of it” (Benneworth 2015, 48–49).

For Benneworth, part of the tracing process is about humanities researchers detailing the activities that they undertake to ensure that their work achieves impact (e.g. engagement behaviours, with research showing that humanities researchers are extensively engaged in public, private and voluntary sectors). Humanities researchers also contribute to creative industries and provide a critical and deciphering role in examining the way society develops “humanities research underpins the development of complementary capacities to more technical research and this helps drive a good, civilised society” (Benneworth 2015, 50). The author argues that there is no model for traceable upscaling and that this is the reason why many humanities researchers are ambivalent about justifying their research and their disciplines, in particular in terms of social utility.