New Report on the Impact of Arts and Humanities Research at Cambridge

11 June 2010

A new report has assessed how arts and humanities research at Cambridge benefits society. RAND Europe, an independent research institute, carried out the study for the University of Cambridge and the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).

What were the Findings?

These are the central findings of the study as reported in the summary:

  • ‘Arts and humanities research by University of Cambridge academics has many impacts.’
  • ‘Accurate attribution of research impact is often difficult. Research impact is difficult to predict or assess in advance.’
  • ‘Arts and humanities research impact tends to work cumulatively, through depth and/or breadth of research over many years; this means that the work of senior or longer-active researchers is more likely to achieve impact.’
  • ‘Public knowledge creation is a key non-academic impact of arts and humanities research by University of Cambridge researchers.’
  • ‘Research impacts are often unplanned; nevertheless more academics could use existing opportunities to ensure their research has greater impact.’

While many of these findings tell us what we already know, the report still makes for interesting reading.

Conflicting Forces

In some of the most interesting interviews of the study, Cambridge researchers described the obstacles they faced when trying to achieve greater impact.

For example, institutional structures and methods of evaluation can work counter to reaching a broader audience:

You don’t get to be a fellow of the British Academy by writing popular books. So there are all sorts of flags of success which not only do not depend on impact in the way you mean it, but are actually antagonistic towards that idea, i.e. it would be “bad” to do it.1

And as another interviewee explained, there are limits to what an individual researcher can do:

If you really are going to focus on impact, then you’ve got to take away the other pressures [...] you must take away the pressure to produce blue skies research. You can’t do everything.2

Accessing the Report

Both the full report and the summary may be downloaded as PDFs from here:

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  1. Ruth Levitt et al., Assessing the Impact of Arts and Humanities Research at the University of Cambridge (RAND, 2010): 28. []
  2. Ibid.: 32. []

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