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Section III: Panelsí Criteria and Working Methods

3.32 Social Policy and Administration and Social Work, UoA 40, 41

Social Policy and Administration Descriptor

3.32.1 The UoA includes: Theoretical social policy; comparative social policy and administration; history of social policy; politics of social policy; economics of social policy; management systems and cultures; ethics and values; methods of social policy research; higher education pedagogy of social policy; concepts of social justice; the mixed economy of welfare; socio-legal issues; crime and criminal justice policy; urban policy; housing policy; social divisions of welfare and links to structures of inequality (e.g. social class, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, visible minorities, disabilities, age); poverty and social exclusion; sociology of welfare; employment and labour markets; demography; gerontology and studies of ageing; social policy in developing and developed countries; policy, practice and service delivery with regards to: social security and income maintenance; health; personal social services; education; youth; care and caring; families; voluntary associations and communities.

Social Work Descriptor

3.32.2 The UoA includes: Social work, its theory and practice and the context in which it occurs, including: methods of social work research; ethics and values; concepts of social justice; service user perspectives; issues of gender, ethnicity, visible minorities, sexuality, disability and age; social work education; higher education pedagogy of social work; socio-legal issues; probation and criminal justice; management and service delivery; personal social services; child welfare and child protection; community care; day care; residential care; elders; gerontology and studies of ageing; families and substitute family care; youth work; community work; group work; counselling; voluntary work; poverty and anti-poverty work; interventions in the fields of substance misuse; health, including mental health, disabilities, including learning difficulties.


3.32.3 The Panel has drawn up these criteria for assessment within the published arrangements for the 2001 Research Assessment Exercise to provide more detailed guidance on the formation of judgements about the quality of research in the Social Policy and Administration and Social Work units of assessment. These criteria and the Panel's method of operation apply equally to both units of assessment within its remit.

UoA Boundaries

3.32.4 Social Policy & Administration and Social Work are closely related subjects with a substantial degree of overlap but they differ in their emphasis. Social Policy and Administration is distinguished by its focus on the theory, analysis and evaluation of social policies and their implementation, and Social Work by its focus on the theory and practice of Social Work. Both subjects include attention to understanding of social context.

3.32.5 Social Policy and Administration and Social Work are also closely related to a range of other disciplines, both within the social sciences and more broadly. The Panel has identified the following topics which may overlap with other UoAs but which would come within the Panel's remit where the primary focus is on the social policy or social work dimension:

  1. Criminology (potential overlap with UoAs Law and Sociology)
  2. Education (potential overlap with UoA Education)
  3. Gender, ethnicity, disability, sexuality and ageing (potential overlap with UoA Sociology)
  4. Health Policy and related issues (potential overlap with UoAs Other Studies and Professions Allied to Medicine and Community Based Clinical Subjects)
  5. Housing (potential overlap with UoA Town and Country Planning)
  6. Public Policy and Public Administration (potential overlap with UoA Politics and International Studies)
  7. Social Gerontology (potential overlap with UoAs Nursing, Biological Sciences, Sociology and Other Studies and Professions Allied to Medicine)

3.32.6 Social Policy and Administration and Social Work are essentially multidisciplinary subjects and the Panel has been constituted with a broad spread of relevant expertise to ensure informed assessment of all submissions. However, where a substantial part of a submission clearly spans the boundary between two UoAs, (other than Social Policy and Social Work), the Panel will refer the submission to the appropriate Panel(s) for advice, identifying the particular aspects of research activity on which views are sought.


3.32.7 The Panel does not intend to establish any sub-panels. It will appoint special advisers for Criminology and for Race and Ethnicity. It will make a final decision on any other requirements for specialist advisers in the light of the submissions received.

Interdisciplinary Research

3.32.8 The Panel values interdisciplinary research and welcomes submissions which embrace this approach. In considering the submissions, all members will look specifically at issues of interdisciplinarity. Additionally, the members responsible for leading the Panel's discussion of individual submissions will consider and advise the Panel on the contribution, if any, which interdisciplinarity has made to the quality of research output, especially where interdisciplinarity is identified as a distinctive feature of the submission in RA5.

3.32.9 Where interdisciplinary submissions impinge significantly on other UoAs, the Panel will, if appropriate, seek additional expert advice to aid it in the assessment process, either from other panels or from specialist advisers.

Joint Submissions

3.32.10 The Panel will assess joint submissions against the same criteria, and on the same basis, as all other submissions. It will, however, look to the common textual element of the joint submission (RA5 and RA6) for evidence of genuine collaboration between the institutions concerned and will also expect to see a description of the nature of, and arrangements for, joint working.

Treatment of Evidence

3.32.11 The Panel will consider the quality of research presented in each submission in the round. Within this framework:

  1. It will attach the greatest importance to the quality of cited research output (RA2).
  2. Its judgement of overall research quality will also be informed by:

  1. The extent and effectiveness of postgraduate research activity, as indicated by the number of research students and studentships and degrees awarded (RA3a and RA3b);
  2. Evidence on the pattern of external funding (RA4);
  3. Evidence of the vitality of the research culture of each department, its engagement with and/or contribution to the development of policy and practice, its contribution to dissemination, the esteem in which it is held, and prospects for continuing progress and development (RA5 and RA6 and, as part of the evidence for prospects for continuing progress and development, the staff profile in RA1 ).

Research Output (RA2)

3.32.12 The Panel expects to receive a range of research output, including articles in refereed journals, professional and practitioner journals and in published conference proceedings, books, chapters in edited books, edited books, research reports, and training materials which embody the results of original research undertaken by the authors. It may also receive some research output in non-print media, such as video and electronic media and software.

3.32.13 Taking account of the nature of the disciplines, the Panel's normal expectation would be for established, full-time staff to be in a position to cite four pieces of research output. Where staff cite fewer than four items, institutions are invited to explain the circumstances in RA6.

3.32.14 The Panel recognises that co-authored publications may provide valuable evidence of research teams working collaboratively within or across institutions and of interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary research. However, where two or more co-authors in the same Department cite the same output within one submission, this may carry less weight with the Panel than if a wider range of work had been cited. In considering co-authored work, the Panel will look for evidence that the researcher has made an independent contribution to the work concerned. Departments should use the 'Other relevant details' field on RA2 to signal this contribution where this can be done briefly.

3.32.15 For each submission, the Panel will review all of the research output cited and collectively will examine in detail at least 25%.

3.32.16 The Panel will select the cited outputs to be examined in detail using a sampling process. This will be designed to ensure that, for each submission, the work examined in detail normally includes:

  1. At least one item of cited output per member of staff;
  2. Examples of the full range of different forms of research output cited.

3.32.17 Items to be examined in detail will be selected largely on the basis of the outcomes of the initial review.

3.32.18 In selecting research output to be examined in detail, members will take account of their existing knowledge of the cited output, and may also have regard to the extent to which output has already been subject to peer review or refereeing processes.

3.32.19 The Panel will regard all forms of research - basic, strategic and applied - on their merits. Full recognition will be given to work which is of direct relevance to the needs of the public and voluntary sector, commerce, industry and communities, international, national and local.

3.32.20 The Panel will base its judgements of the quality of research output on the criteria listed below, recognising that not all criteria will be equally applicable in each case.

It will consider the extent and originality of the contribution to:

  1. the advancement of knowledge and of the discipline
  2. the advance of theory
  3. the advance of policy debate
  4. the understanding of or advance of good practice

It will also consider:

  1. the logical coherence of argument and the use and interpretation of evidence
  2. the clarity of research questions, appropriateness of research design, degree of methodological rigour and innovation in approach.

Research Students and Studentships (RA3)

3.32.21 The Panel will regard the number of research students, studentships and higher research degrees awarded as indicators of research vitality. In cases where current performance is low, departments may provide an explanatory statement in RA5 and RA6.

3.32.22 No distinction will be made between the various sources of funding for graduate students.

External Research Income (RA4)

3.32.23 External research income will be used as an indicator of judgement of standing related to the previous achievements or future promise of an individual researcher or research group. In general, the pattern of grants will be accorded greater weight than the total value. (Institutions are asked to describe the pattern of funding in RA5.)

3.32.24 The Panel will regard all competitively awarded external research funding as an indicator of esteem and will not distinguish between different sources.

Textual Commentary

3.32.25 In reviewing the information provided in the textual commentary (RA5 and RA6) the Panel will look for evidence of:

  1. A strong and coherent research culture: emphasis will be placed on prospects for continuing vitality
  2. Research leadership
  3. Coherence between research themes and activities undertaken
  4. Contribution to the understanding and advance of policy and practice.

3.32.26 The Panel will also seek information on the way in which research activities have developed since the previous RAE.

3.32.27 Bearing these considerations in mind, institutions are asked to address the following matters in RA5 and RA6.


Research Structure and Environment

3.32.28 Identify any research groupings in the UoA and list the staff belonging to each (referring to RA1). It is recognised that some staff may belong to more than one grouping. The Panel appreciates that some staff may work as individual researchers outside any research grouping. These staff should also be identified.

  1. Indicate the main activities of each grouping, how they operate and their major achievements, including the research income associated with each grouping.
  2. Explain the mechanisms and practices for promoting research and sustaining and developing an active and vital research culture. Include reference to the contribution of postgraduate students.
  3. Describe the nature and quality of the research infrastructure, including facilities for research students.
  4. Describe any arrangements which are in place for supporting interdisciplinary or collaborative research.
  5. If applicable, list any other UoAs to which related work has been submitted and detail any difficulties of fit between departmental structure and the UoA framework. Where the submission includes work covered by other Panels, please indicate this and state the other discipline(s) involved. If the submission, or part of it, is interdisciplinary, please identify it as such.

3.32.29 Provide information, if applicable, on relations and research collaborations with the public and voluntary sector and with commerce and industry, and on the involvement of service users in research.

3.32.30 Describe arrangements for disseminating research findings/outputs to the appropriate audiences (e.g. through Newsletters, web pages, organisation of conferences).

3.32.31 The Panel expects to see diversity in the size and shape of submissions and does not consider that good quality performance is dependent on the existence of any specific minimum critical mass of research active staff. It will expect to see an explanation of the way in which the research culture of the unit is sustained in the context of the number of staff involved.

Staffing Policy

3.32.32 Describe the arrangements for the development and support of the research work of staff. Include reference to measures taken to implement the Concordat to provide a Framework for the Career Development of Contract Researchers in Universities and Colleges.

3.32.33 Describe any additional arrangements which are in place for developing the research of younger and/or new researchers and for integrating them into a wider, supportive research culture, e.g. specified training budget, availability of bridging funds for contract researchers.

3.32.34 Where appropriate, explain the role and contribution of category A* staff who have joined the department.

3.32.35 Where appropriate, comment on how the departure of staff in categories A*, B and D has affected the strength and coherence of the research culture of the department at the census date.

3.32.36 Where appropriate, comment on the contribution which Category C staff make to the research effort of the department or unit.

Additional Observations

3.32.37 Describe the overall profile of the unit's output and indicate the basis on which the items included in the submission were selected from the total body of work available.

3.32.38 Referring back to the research funding data in RA4, elaborate on the sources of funding; describe the way in which the funding was obtained, e.g. competitive tender, proposal submitted to an external funder; identify significant collaborators and partners; comment on the extent to which the funding is an indicator of esteem; and indicate how the funding is organised and managed.

Research Strategy

3.32.39 Provide a statement about the main objectives and activities in research over the next five years. The Panel's attention should be drawn to ongoing research work that is not producing immediately visible outcomes.

3.32.40 Where applicable, provide an evaluation of the research plans put forward in the 1996 RAE. Comment briefly on the extent to which the plans have been achieved. Indicate the extent to which the institution, as a corporate body, has supported the implementation of those plans. Where objectives have been changed, or have not been met, please give reasons.

Self Assessment

3.32.41 Provide a self-assessment of performance in relation to the matters detailed above in the textual commentary. In particular, please identify areas of strength and weakness, and indicate any measures which are being implemented to address the latter.


Evidence of Esteem

3.32.42 List indicators of peer and user esteem, identifying the staff concerned where appropriate. Such indicators might include:

  1. international recognition: e.g. international research collaborations, visiting research posts in overseas institutions, presence of visiting scholars from other countries, presentations at international conferences
  2. acting as advisers on policy or practice issues to Government or voluntary bodies or to other national, international, regional or local agencies
  3. editorships of journals
  4. organisation of conferences or symposia
  5. awards or prizes for research
  6. recognition by the ESRC as a research training outlet

3.32.43 Provide evidence of the impact of the unit's research output, including impact on users and contribution to the development of policy and practice.

Individual Staff Circumstances

3.32.44 Note any individual staff circumstances which have significantly affected their contribution to the submission (e.g. periods of sick leave, career breaks, engagement on long-term projects, part-time/fractional appointments, recent recruits to the department or profession).

Contributions by Non Research-active Staff

3.32.45 Institutions may, if they so wish, comment briefly on the contribution to research of staff who have not been returned as research active.

Working Methods

3.32.46 The Panel will assess the submissions primarily on the basis of its informed judgement and will take account of the quantitative elements as indicated in these criteria.

3.32.47 The Panel will initially consider cited research output at the level of the individual researcher and then at the level of the department as a whole, taking into account any identified research groupings/themes. It will consider all other evidence at the level of the department. Through this process it will reach an overall assessment of the department.

3.32.48 In order to ensure consistent and equitable treatment of all submissions, the Panel will discuss all submissions using an assessment template drawn up on the basis of the criteria described in this document

3.32.49 All submissions, both in Social Policy and Social Work, will be read by all members of the Panel, who will also examine a sample of the cited research output. Each Panel member will be required to provide a preliminary, individual rating for each submission.

3.32.50 For each submission, two members will be designated as "lead members" on the basis of their expertise in the principal research areas covered by the submission. The lead members will undertake a thorough examination of the submission in the round and will examine in detail a selection of the research output, assisted, where required, by other members with appropriate specialist subject expertise. The lead members will have responsibility for leading the Panel's discussion of the submission at the assessment meeting.

3.32.51 For each submission, the Panel members not based in higher education institutions will be invited to lead the discussions of the relevance of the department research from the point of view of its interrelationship with policy debate and practice developments.

3.32.52 The award of ratings will be the collective responsibility of the Panel as a whole. The Panel will normally seek to reach a decision by consensus after full discussion of the submission, but where this is not possible members will vote on the rating to be awarded. If required, the member occupying the Chair will exercise a casting vote. The Panel will review all ratings at the end of the exercise in order to ensure consistency of standards.

3.32.53 The Panel will classify submissions according to the definitions relating to ratings published by the four UK funding bodies. Work will be regarded as of international excellence if it is, or is likely to become, a primary reference point in its field (in the sense that it is amongst the best in its field) and of national excellence if it is, or is likely to become, a reference point in its field (in the sense that it contributes significantly to knowledge and understanding).

3.32.54 International excellence does not equate per se to publication in journals published overseas or entitled international, or to links with overseas organisations and institutions. Such factors may, however, represent significant indicators of peer esteem.

3.32.55 An international or comparative focus for research does not of itself signify international excellence. Conversely, work which has a national or local focus is capable of attaining standards of excellence recognised internationally.

3.32.56 The Panel will identify up to five non-UK based experts for each of Social Policy and Social Work and will consult them to verify its judgements of international excellence. The non-UK based experts appointed will be drawn from those conversant with the fields of social policy and administration and social work as understood in the UK, and will be proficient in the English language. They will operate across theoretical, strategic and applied areas.

3.32.57 Having made its provisional assessments, the Panel will provide the non-UK based experts with its criteria and working methods together with copies of all of the submissions in their area which are provisionally rated 5 or 5* and, for comparative purposes, a selection of those provisionally rated 4. The non-UK based experts will be asked to indicate whether they concur with the Panel's judgement of international excellence.

Last updated 17 April 2000

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