Tension in Interpretations of the Social Impact of the Social Sciences: Walking a Tightrope Between Divergent Conceptualizations of Research Utilization

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Abstract

In Finland, the discussion surrounding the impact of research on society has continued for two decades without a consensus
on how impact should be part of research evaluation. In this paper, I examine the conceptions of social impact in the field of
social sciences from the perspectives of policy authors and academics by reviewing policy documents and conducting semistructured
interviews with 14 policy advisors, evaluation experts, and faculty professors. The policy data sets are from 2003
to 2018, the period in which the Finnish discussion on research impact has been the most active. Interpretivist notions on
the social impact of the social sciences argue that representations of social impact derive from juxtapositional conceptions
of how social science knowledge is part of society. Grounded theory techniques were used to analyze policy artifacts and
stakeholder interviews. I identified five interpretative frames. These are impact governance, operationalization of impact,
politicization of research utilization, guiding arrangements, and social impact of the social sciences. A key finding is that policy
advisors and academic experts tend to integrate divergent vocabularies of research utilization and its evaluation, resulting in
uncertainty about the conceptualization and operationalization of impact. Integrity of research utilization in research policy
and research evaluation could increase the social capacity of the social sciences by helping to understand the conceptual
contribution of these fields to public policies and public discussion.
Original languageEnglish
JournalSAGE Open
Volume12
Issue number2
Number of pages16
ISSN2158-2440
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 12 Apr 2022
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed

Fields of Science

  • 5141 Sociology

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