Social sciences’ most extensive evaluation published

In the largest evaluation of the social sciences in Norway ever, five research institutions and 22 research groups have been assessed as world-leading in one or more subjects.

However, Norwegian social science is “introvert” and should “strengthen significantly” its international scope, the evaluation concluded.

The evaluation, published on 19 June by the Research Council of Norway, involved 48 panel members – mainly from other Nordic countries but with a significant number from the United Kingdom, Italy, the Netherlands, Austria and Germany – and was carried out over the past two years. It was chaired by Professor Katarina Eckerberg from the department of political science at Umeå University, Sweden.

The evaluation covered six research areas: geography, economics, political science, sociology, social anthropology and the economic-administrative research area. It included 3,005 social scientists and 42 institutions – 26 faculties or departments at universities and university colleges, and 16 publicly financed social science research institutes. The evaluation further comprised 136 research groups within those institutions.

Six panel reports of some 1,500 pages and one principal report written by chair Eckerberg plus the chair of each of the six panels were published, together with statistical reports on scientific production and impact. The principal report contains 17 recommendations for the universities, 12 recommendations for the Research Council of Norway and six recommendations for the Ministry of Education and Research.

The evaluators used a five-grade scale, where the top position was characterised as: “Original research at the international forefront. The unit has a very high productivity. The unit [the institution or research group] undertakes excellent, original research and publishes it in outstanding international channels for scientific and scholarly publications. Its researchers present ongoing research regularly at recognised, international scientific conferences.”

Five Norwegian institutions achieved top grades in some subjects, led by the University of Oslo with four top grades across three subjects, economics, sociology and social anthropology, with two faculties achieving top grade in sociology – its faculties of law and social studies.

The Norwegian School of Economics (NHH) in Bergen achieved two top grades, in economics, and economics and administration.

The other top grades were achieved by the BI Norwegian Business School, in economics and administration; the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO), in political science; and the University of Bergen, in social anthropology.

Twenty-two research groups have also been awarded a top score. Of these, seven are at the University of Oslo, five at the NHH, three at the University of Bergen and three at the BI Norwegian Business School.

In addition, one top score each was achieved by research groups from PRIO, the Norwegian University of Life Sciences (NMBU), the Centre for International Climate Research (CICERO) and the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI).

All 22 research groups are located in Oslo or Bergen or just outside Oslo (NMBU).

“We have to look beyond the borders of Norway,” Director General of the Research Council of Norway John-Arne Røttingen said at the launch of the report. “Norwegian research themes ought to be seen in a broader theoretical context since the research undertaken often is very relevant internationally also,” he said. “And Norwegian institutions also should improve in the recruitment of international researchers.”

Introversion to be challenged

“The evaluation demonstrates that social anthropology is ‘the jewel in the crown’ among Norwegian social sciences. This research is of extremely high quality and at the forefront of international research in the field,” he stated.

“We are also told that the mobility of Norwegian social scientists is low. First, they seldom change work between the sectors and institutions nationally. Second, the evaluation committee states that many of the institutions do not have good strategies for international recruitment. And third, Norwegian scientists travel too little outside the Nordic region.”

The main recommendations are directed to the institutions to find mechanisms to change this, he said. “We are not served by being as introvert as this. We have to lift our eyes more up and out than we do today.”

Superficial on interdisciplinary research

Tanja Storsul, director at the Institute for Social Research, said the evaluation would have been more interesting if it was “less lopsided”.

Writing on her blog page, she said: “It does not evaluate all aspects of Norwegian social sciences. It is mainly a disciplinary evaluation of the six social sciences performed by experts from these fields, having evaluated the scientific quality of research within each discipline.”

She said it would have been interesting if the evaluation had focused not only on how interdisciplinary research in the social sciences are a challenge for the disciplines but also evaluated “how Norwegian social sciences are positioned with regard to interdisciplinary research and what is needed to become better”.

She took issue with the report’s claim that interdisciplinary research generates mechanistic analyses and that social scientists who work in a cross-disciplinary team over a long time will risk losing contact with their discipline.