Are you Research Excellent?

The UK’s nation­al Research Excel­lence Frame­work (REF) assess­ment is loom­ing. The form­al dead­line is in 2021, but many will be already feel­ing the pres­sures in their insti­tu­tions and depart­ments to be mak­ing sense of their work in terms of REF’s met­rics and pro­ced­ures.

I’ve found myself entangled in this world of REF recently and want­ing to be able to make com­par­is­ons between insti­tu­tions and their Units of Assess­ment” (REFs clas­si­fic­a­tion of research dis­cip­lines and fields).

Using this pub­licly avail­able data, I’ve built a little tool to see how an institution’s unit of assess­ment did in the last assess­ment (circa 2014) and view this against oth­er UoA res­ults.

screen grab of REF comparison tool

For now, I’m just visu­al­ising data from two units of assess­ment, Soci­ology and Com­puter Sci­ences and Inform­at­ics.

You can com­pare your own institution’s Soci­ology or Com­puter Sci­ence scores against oth­ers’ in terms of Out­puts, Impact and Envir­on­ment (the REF assess­ment pro­files).

I post this sens­it­ive to the troubles and com­plic­a­tions that come with enact­ing aca­dem­ic life using these sys­tems of account­ing. I’m grate­ful to Effie Le Moignan for remind­ing me of the troubles.

From the Picket Line

For those of us in UK aca­demia, it’s been impossible to miss the strikes over the last four weeks, with aca­dem­ics from across the coun­try stand­ing their ground for a fair and equit­able pen­sion. There are many incred­ibly detail­ing the devel­op­ments and explain­ing how this is about for a walk of life that just doesn’t have to be sub­ject to the warped val­ues of the Neo‐liberal pro­ject.

Per­son­ally, what I’ve found inspir­a­tion­al is the cov­er­age from the pick­et line and the industry of oth­ers. Nat­ur­ally, there have been the marches, the ban­ners, and the teach‐ins. But, with such gen­er­at­ive care and warmth, what has brought spe­cial cheer to me have been the many out­stand­ing examples of cre­at­ive impulse: of craft (like that recor­ded by Jac­ob Phelps below), of design (from Katja May, Kat Jung­nick­el, etc. at Gold­smiths), and of poetry (no less from the fab­ulous Michael Rosen).

Giv­en it would be hard to add to all the amaz­ing com­ment­ary on the pen­sion strikes, what I want to pay spe­cial homage to here is the dance (and a little song) from the pick­et line. Brows­ing the not‐so‐distant twit­ter archive, I’ve tried to dig out a few out the high­lights from the last few weeks that can’t help bring a smile to my face. It must be said, that among all the won­der­ful examples, Lan­caster goes gold hands down for the PEF (Pick­et Excel­lence Frame­work), and Imo­gen Tyler deserves a spe­cial award of excel­lence for her unwaver­ing com­mit­ment to impact dis­sem­in­a­tion, Twitter‐wide.

Here’s to all the dan­cers (and musi­cians) on the pick­et line

For example, from Jason Hick­el, Dav­id Kerno­han, via Medi­um, etc. Kar­en Gregory has put togeth­er a list of UCU Strike Read­ings. Lucy Robinson’s strike scrap­book also deserves a spe­cial men­tion.
See by Six points on the eve of the UCU strike Jam­ie Wood­cock

PhD studentships at City

Just try­ing to pro­mote as widely as pos­sible:

My School has just announced ten PhD stu­dent­ships. I’d love to have strong applic­a­tions from pro­spect­ive stu­dents want­ing to join the Centre for Human‐Centered Design (HCID).

There’s a list of research top­ics here. The dead­line is 25th April 2018. For the full advert, see here.

Per­son­ally, I’m very open to sug­ges­tions on top­ic. It would be thrill­ing to see pro­pos­als for crit­ic­al and per­haps mater­i­al­ist ori­ent­a­tions to tech­nos­cience. Oh, and fem­in­ist, inter­sec­tion­al think­ing would be high on my wish list.

Whatever the per­sua­sion, if you have friends, stu­dents, col­leagues, etc. inter­ested in doing some­thing excit­ing, please put them in touch.

Keeping open”

My Microsoft Smart Card
“... to keep unpack­ing, reveal­ing, open­ing and uncon­ceal­ing, we need also to think dif­fer­ently. Along­side unpack­ing and con­nect­ing we need to argue for dif­fer­ent worlds to those which dom­in­ate us.”

I’m delighted to be start­ing a new job this Septem­ber at City, Uni­ver­sity of Lon­don. I’ll be join­ing the lively Centre for HCI Design (HCID). Both Steph and Simone, the centre’s co‐directors, have been amaz­ingly gen­er­ous in pre­par­ing me for my new role and dis­cuss­ing the dir­ec­tions we might take things in. I’ve also begun to rough out new lines of research with my soon to be col­leagues and I eagerly anti­cip­ate set­ting things in motion. Nat­ur­ally my chal­lenge will be to keep a lid on my enthu­si­asm, leav­ing the energy to improve my teach­ing and engage a stu­dent cohort in caring about the entan­gle­ments between tech­no­logy and social life — and the thrills and spills that come with such a care. (more…)

From Joanna Latimer and Bever­ley Skeggs art­icle, The polit­ics of ima­gin­a­tion: keep­ing open and crit­ic­al.


After a tre­mend­ous about of work with Lara Hou­s­ton, I’m delighted to have finally gone live with our data policy site: data​-policy​.info. It attempts to detail, in vari­ous formats and cuts, the dis­cus­sions at the day of dia­logues on data, policy and civic life, held at Microsoft Research Cam­bridge. More than this though, we want the site to pro­mote fur­ther dis­cus­sion and expand the ways we might think of the rela­tions between data, social/civic life, and policy. For me, the inspir­a­tion here has been the work a few of us have been doing with Ten­ison Road in cam­bridge and a community’s efforts to make sense of and use its data. I’d like to think some­thing small and loc­al could make a dif­fer­ence in these big dis­cus­sions

Dialogues on data, policy and civic life


Next Tues­day a few of us at Microsoft Research are host­ing a day‐long dia­logue to dis­cuss the inter­ming­lings of data and social/civic life. We’re bring­ing togeth­er a mix of social the­or­ists, com­ment­at­ors and policy advisers with the hope of draw­ing out pos­sib­il­it­ies for doing policy mak­ing (as well as tech­no­logy design) dif­fer­ently. Our pre­amble for the event fol­lows (a print­able PDF can be down­loaded here): (more…)

Announcing Tenison Road launch

Finally pos­ted some fly­ers to announce the launch of the big data pro­ject we’ll run for a year. We hope to work with the res­id­ents and pro­pri­et­ors on Ten­ison Road in Cam­bridge to bet­ter under­stand how big data mat­ters and what people on the street want it to be. This is a pro­ject that is aim­ing to get at the inter­ming­lings of data and loc­al­ity, and to inter­vene in the entan­gle­ments in pro­duct­ive ways. That’s the hope! ... Fin­gers crossed.

Changes to FoI Act


Some sig­ni­fic­ant changes to the UK’s Free­dom of Inform­a­tion Act were enacted yes­ter­day that give people to right to request and, crit­ic­ally, reuse data. It’s prob­ably easy to over­look the implic­a­tions of this. The way I see it, every­one (includ­ing com­mer­cial bod­ies) now have the right to access FoI reg­u­lated data and (re-)use it for ana­lys­is, ana­lyt­ics, build­ing apps, etc. Wheth­er that’s good or bad, it seems pretty pro­found to me. See a sum­mary of the changes here on the Inform­a­tion Commissioner’s Office blog.