The Focus Group for Gender & Diversity in Science and Engineering aimed to develop an understanding of the inclusion and exclusion mechanisms of evaluation procedures and indicators in the field of engineering. Thus far, the engineering sciences are an under-explored area when it comes to analyzing the formative effects of research assessment. Methodologically, research evaluation is modeled on the natural sciences (Nature, 2010), but the same methods are increasingly applied to technical sciences at large (De Jong et al., 2011; Donovan, 2007; Martin et al, 2010). However, technical sciences are characteristically much more applied, and generally speaking, more oriented towards a broader impact than most natural sciences. This makes the usefulness of citation-based indicators debatable. What are the consequences of this shift toward the prevailing metric-based orders of worth in research assessment for the epistemic culture and authorship practices of the engineering sciences? How does such a shift relate to other practices of valuation in the engineering sciences? How do they affect possible career paths as well as patterns of inclusion and exclusion in these fields of research and development?
From our previous projects in the life sciences, the social sciences and law in the Netherlands, Austria, and Sweden we can extrapolate, first of all, that quantitative indicators feed into quite routine knowledge-producing activities (e.g. discussions over whom to collaborate with and when, how much time to spend in the laboratory producing data) (Hammarfelt & De Rijcke, 2015; Fochler, Felt & Müller, 2016; Kaltenbrunner & de Rijcke, 2016; Rushforth & De Rijcke, 2015). Researchers are increasingly ‘thinking with indicators’ at various stages throughout their research processes. The Focus Group was further chart these reification dynamics and distributed responsibilities for the field of engineering. This is needed in order to develop more sophisticated policies and refined ways for the conscientious application of evaluative metrics in different fields.
The Focus Group liked:
a) Provide an overview of existing evaluation procedures and policy initiatives for the engineering sciences in the Netherlands and Germany;
b) Identify best practices on the basis of secondary document analysis;
c) Develop a suitable empirical approach to analyze the particular values enacted in evaluation systems in the engineering sciences, and the effects of performance indicators on knowledge production in engineering. Based on our earlier work we expect to draw on semi-structured interviews, document analysis, and observations of day-to-day decision-making processes of research groups.
d) Carry out an in-depth qualitative project in the engineering sciences on the basis of this empirical approach. The study will most likely be comparative and will consist of at least two case studies in our respective national contexts.
e) Draw out differences between the new findings and results from our own previous research in the life sciences, social sciences and law. f) Integrate these analyses into more refined ways for responsible application of evaluative metrics in engineering fields.
The Focus Group leaders were:
Prof. Dr. Ruth Müller, Assistant Professor of Science and Technology Policy at the TU Munich Center for Technology in Society (MCTS). She is acting as host of the Focus Group.
Prof. Dr. Sarah de Rijcke, Associate Professor of Science, Technology and Evaluation Studies at the Centre for Science and Technology Studies (CWTS, Leiden University), and Anna Boyksen Fellow at the TUM Institute for Advanced Study.