Beki Grinter

Metrics: Just Because You Can Doesn’t Mean You Should

In academia, academic management, discipline on June 6, 2011 at 8:28 am

The Chronicle of Higher Education recently posted an announcement that a journal ranking system in Australia has been cancelled. It had caused a lot of controversy. Explaining why, Sen. Kim Carr said:

Sen. Kim Carr, Australia’s minister for innovation, industry, science, and research, announced on Monday that the rankings would be jettisoned. “There is clear and consistent evidence that the rankings were being deployed inappropriately within some quarters of the sector, in ways that could produce harmful outcomes, and based on a poor understanding of the actual role of the rankings,” Mr. Carr said in a written statement. Instead of rankings, he said, the Australian system will incorporate “journal quality profiles.” Mr. Carr added that “the removal of the ranks and the provision of the publication profile will ensure they will be used descriptively rather than prescriptively.”

This was also a problem in the metrics effort we studied. But what was also a problem subsequently is that once any metrics program had been used “inappropriately” (in this case to conduct layoffs) every initiative that followed was greeted with healthy suspicion. And why not. Once you use a metrics initiative like that, it’s pretty easy to see why people would be skeptical about anything that followed it. Of course organizations can continue to “enforce” metrics initiatives, and we learnt that when they did that, people learnt how to creatively report and count.

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