The Measurement Game

As a former university research administrator, one of my favourite books is Management Fads in Higher Education: Where they come from, What they Do, Why they fail[1] by US writer Robert Birnbaum. At the same time that Australian universities were enthusiastically adopting new management practices, Birmbaum’s book was clearly documenting their failure in the US. For me, he always seemed to accurately sum up the frustrations in academia.  On the evaluation ‘management fad’ he said: 

“If we cannot measure what is valuable, we will come to value what is measurable, so that passion for measurement can distort organizational efforts by prizing and overproducing what can be measured and neglecting what cannot.”[2]  

In Australia, we increasingly see the intrinsic benefits of creative research, for society, communities and individuals, being sidelined for the more easily counted dollar values and audience numbers. 

Julian Meyrick observes the result of this measurement obsession:

“For the past 30 years, Australian governments have conflated the nation’s cultural creativity with its economic prosperity. This has promoted a mood of metrical madness - the measuring of anything and everything in a way that is methodologically suspect, morally insidious and not a little daft.” [3]

In this edition of NiTRO, which features a welcome by DDCA’s new Vice President, Professor Cat Hope, we focus on issues inherent in our “daft” system of evaluating research performance. As our contributors demonstrate, there is still much to be done to address the misfit between creative arts research and its values, and the government’s system of measuring and rewarding performance.   

Clive Barstow (ECU) in an interview with Literature Professor Jill Durey (ECU) finds similarities in creative arts and literature research and solutions that could benefit both;

Simon Biggs (UniSA) unpacks the Impact and Engagement guidelines to pinpoint the challenge for capturing the intrinsic value of creative arts offering a glimmer of hope for the future;

Jen Webb (Canberra) and Ross Gibson (Canberra) analyse and compare different FORs and suggest reasons for ‘lacklustre’ performance of creative arts in ERA;

Larissa Hjorth (RMIT) points out how the Engagement and Impact (E&I) agenda pushes universities to support the research process itself and highlights the work of creative arts disciplines;

Craig Batty (UTS) considers the role of craft in research and whether the longstanding art v craft dichotomy should be finally resolved;

Brydie-Leigh Bartleet (Griffith) challenges creative arts researchers to take hold of the agenda and develop a more holistic way of understanding impact;

Marie Sierra (UNSW) delves into the murky world of FOR re-coding and argues the case for ambiguity;

Former (and founding) DDCA President Su Baker, reflects on the changes in tertiary arts education which have accompanied her career.


[1] Birnbaum, R. (2001). Management fads in higher education: Where they come from, what they do, why they fail. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

[2] ibid p198.

[3]  Meyrick, J (2017).Are We Counting Culture to Death? The Conversation June 2017