New Article in RSO: Striving for societal impact as an early-career researcher

Heroic, non-heroic and post-heroic perspective on societal impact (Source: Friesike et al., 2021)

When we think about societal impact of researchers, we mostly have prominent senior scholars in mind. In an article forthcoming in Research in the Sociology of Organizations (RSO), Sascha Friesike, Maximilian Heimstaedt and I have taken a different focus and reflected on “Striving for societal impact as an early-career researcher”. Before we arrive at our post-heroic perspective on impact (see Figure above), we discuss 5 common concerns early-career researchers commonly struggle with when considering impact work.

Concern #1: Do I even have time for this? Isn’t it “publish or perish”?

We argue that it is not all about trade-offs. Impact work may substantially contribute to publishing efforts, e.g., by opening up access to the field or by helping to recognize new phenomena.

Concern #2: Should I focus on impact activities that count / are counted?

What is true for the Journal Impact Factor, is true for Altmetrics, as well: “when a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure” (Strathern rephrasing Goodhart’s law). In our paper, we discuss three primary reasons why Altmetrics should not guide impact work:

  • Altmetrics measure attention, not impact
  • Not all impact work is (meant to be) visible if it should best serve the cause
  • Spillover effects (e.g., to teaching) are hardly captured by Altmetrics

Concern #3: Are my findings too incremental when compared to iconic concepts?

When engaging in impact work, you do – and should – not only draw on your “own” incremental contributions. Making those contributions requires to have an overview of an entire field. Draw from the fullest!

Concern #4: My findings are not actionable – so how are they useful?

Impact is much more than coming up with “plug ‘n’ play” management tools (actually, applying those is often the worst kind of impact work). In our paper, we refer to Nicolai & Seidl’s (2010) distinction between three different ways that academic research can be useful for practitioners:

  • Instrumental relevance: e.g., help in decision-making
  • Conceptual relevance: e.g., new metaphors or uncovering contingencies
  • Legitimative relevance: e.g., when founding new ventures

Concern #5: What if I say something wrong (and get a bad reputation)?

Sadly, depending on the researcher’s subjective position, this is the most serious of the five concerns in this list. Not because of reputation but because of harassment issues (see, e.g., Ferber 2018)

How to address harassment concerns? Try to choose a stage, where you feel comfortable, depending on your own preferences. And sometimes, one’s own impact work may consist of giving advice on who else to ask.

With respect to reputation issues, we recommend following the example set by Joan Jett:

For details on the concerns mentioned in this thread and ideas on how to deal with them, check out the pre-print of the article at SocArxiv.

This post is based upon a Twitter thread.