Representation and evaluation of product design in research assessment: A case study of the UK REF 2014

Authors: Hadfield, M., Hutchings, M., De Eyto, A. and Maher, C.

Editors: Parkinson, B.

Start date: 4 September 2014

Journal: DS 78: Proceedings of the E&PDE 2014 16th International conference on Engineering and Product Design, University of Twente, The Netherlands

Pages: 437-442

Publisher: E&PDE

ISBN: 978-1-904670-56-8

The social practice of design and design research is continually evolving to meet the needs of society. Product design has become an increasingly complex interdisciplinary activity working with new and emerging technologies, borrowing and adapting research methodologies from a range of disciplines from the pure and applied sciences to social and behavioral sciences and the humanities in order to address these social needs. It is important that within this evolution, design research within and outside the university develops in line with social need and that we as academic design researchers and educators are mindful of the forces guiding this evolution.

The focus of this paper is on the representation and evaluation of design research in research assessment exercises and their influence on the development of design research in universities.

The representation and evaluation of design and design research in the public sphere has a role to play in its evolution. Research assessment exercises, such as the UK REF 2014[1] allocate funding based on its assessment. They also provide bench marking information for universities and accountability for public investment in research. The UK REF 2014 documents inform and provide evidence for claims made by government, funding bodies, universities and the media regarding the nature and quality of research in the UK, hence the significance of examining the explicit and implicit values in the UK REF 2014 through a documentary analysis. The research method chosen provides an original contribution, using a critical discourse analysis[2] of the UK REF 2014, to understand how design research is represented and evaluated in the document and to provide a critique of the research assessment exercise as a social practice which influences design research and education. This paper will examine how the social practices of research, design and design research are represented and evaluated in the UK REF 2014. It will examine the evolution of the research assessment exercise from 1996 to date[3], noting the challenges of evaluating a diverse body of research and in particular the increasing emphasis in the UK REF 2014 on measures of research impact. It will look at the influence this has on design research allocation of funding and questions its potential influence on design research and education in universities in the future. An in-depth analysis of research assessment exercises outside the UK was not feasible at this time; however the findings may have relevance for universities outside this jurisdiction.

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Authors: Maher, C., Hadfield, M., Hutchings, M. and De Eyto, A.

Journal: Proceedings of the 16th International Conference on Engineering and Product Design Education: Design Education and Human Technology Relations, E and PDE 2014

Pages: 437-442

ISBN: 9781904670568

The social practice of design and design research and is continually evolving to meet the needs of society. Its representation and evaluation in research assessment exercises, such as the UK (Research Excellence Framework) REF 2014[1] has a key role to play in its evolution. Higher education curriculum is affected by this type of representation due to the alignment of academic research inquiry. This paper examines through a documentary analysis of the REF 2014, the practice of funding evaluation exercises to discover and describe how they work and to provide a critique of those practices, using critical discourse analysis. By using Fairclough's[2] three dimensional framework for examining discursive events, it is possible to explore the "relationships of causality and determination"[2] between discursive practices (the evaluation and subsequent funding of UK Higher Education research) and texts (REF 2014) and the wider social and cultural structures and processes which are influencing and being influenced by it. The analysis reveals the considerable influence of REF 2014 in the discourses of other stakeholders and the dominance within those discourses of market system structures where accountability, public relations and intense competition are fundamental to their operation. It raises questions about the nature of research assessment exercises, their ability to reward a diverse range of research in a fair and equitable manner and the impact of research assessment exercises on research inquiry, academic freedom and originality in universities.

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