This issue of Research Trends focuses on the measurement of societal impact of research. Research performance is a multi-dimensional concept. Scientific impact is always a key dimension of measurement; however, there are many other ways in which research can be useful for society. Hence, an increasing amount of researchers and research managers underline the importance of measuring the technological, social, economic and cultural impact of science. For the measurement of scientific and technological impact bibliometric methods are available based on research publications and patents. But, how does one measure the various forms of societal impact?

One may wonder whether measuring societal impact can in fact be done in a politically neutral way, without any explicit or implicit appreciation of the social significance of research results. What for some may be considered a solution to a social problem may for others be thought of as merely controlling a symptom. Following this line of reasoning, one may even argue that using societal impact as a criterion for the evaluation of research is dangerous – it opens doors to political control of research institutions and the research they carry out.

On the other hand, we are all also well aware of the fact that science may also provide very valuable and key solutions to issues in our society.  Discussions about the danger of political control over research should not hamper scientists to contribute to solving these societal issues. Neither should it hamper scientists to be led by societal considerations in choosing their topic of research.

We therefore face a dilemma.  In measuring societal impact in the assessment of research, the best approach seems to be: experiment in a cautious, open and reflective manner. A good example being the ideas proposed in the Research Excellence Framework in the UK to invite researchers to submit reports explicitly indicating – demonstrating if you like - the way in which they believe their work has had societal relevance and impact.

In the meantime, I would like to invite readers to express their views on the dilemma. Moreover, I invite them to submit any social-impact-demonstrating reports to Research Trends for publication (print or online). This way the Research Trends Editorial Team hopes to contribute to the discussion of the appropriate assessment and use of societal impact in research assessment.

Kind regards,

Henk F. Moed

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