Every six years in New Zealand, academics go through a process of collecting evidence about their research and submitting it to the Ministry of Education. They are given a score according to various criteria and their institution is funded according to the score - obviously the higher the score, the more funding the university gets. This process is called PBRF - there are similar processes all around the world.
As an academic, I have to try and score as many brownie points as possible based on my research publications, my contribution to the research environment and peer esteem...in other words, what others think of my research. This process is very much wrapped around publications...in highly regarded research journals...and all the other stuff that comes with academia like... if you've been invited to speak at a conference...had your research cited in another journal article...been asked to give an expert consultation...etc.
This process does leave me asking...what is "quality" research? Actually, to go back one step, what is research? And, what is publication?
This has taken me to ask where social media sits in this process. Can I count a blog post as a "publication"? Is evidence of peer esteem the number of re-tweets I get on Twitter, or the number of "likes" I have on Facebook. Can I use the number of hits and subscribers I get to this blog as evidence of my contribution to the research environment?
Let me tell you a story which illustrates what I am trying to get my head around.
A couple of weeks ago I put a PowerPoint presentation together about the use of social media and the effects it has on the digital identity of babies and young children. I had to do some reading around the topic, analyze the results of research and come up with a conclusion - in other words, this was a research activity. I "published" the presentation on Slideshare.
In two weeks it has had nearly 4,500 hits, been "favourited" 9 times, has been embedded elsewhere 10 times, and been downloaded 70 times. It was so popular it was featured on the front of the Slideshare website for a week. So in terms of research and how it is esteemed, this fits the bill.
But the snag is...Slideshare is not a "reputable" research journal or forum and isn't formally peer-reviewed by "credible" research academics. There will be many that say it does not belong in a PBRF portfolio.
I don't think the PBRF process has been tested yet by social media. And I am not sure how brave I am and whether I want to be a test case, especially if it means I get a lower score as an outcome.
I'd love to hear from anyone who works in academia or is a researcher and faced with a similar dilemma, especially if you work in other countries with similar processes to PBRF. Is now the time to challenge the accepted perception of what research is, or are those of us who use web 2.0 research methodologies a little ahead of our time?