Presentation at 4AM Altmetrics Conference in Toronto, Canada.
Altmetrics continue to grow in popularity in part because of their promise to measure ‘something’ beyond the academic impact captured by citations. Yet, despite over half a decade of research into the topic and their almost ubiquitous presence on journal websites, what that ‘something’ is remains elusive. Moreover, and most problematically for proponents of altmetrics as a measure of societal impact, is that there has been almost no theorizing about the role that social media plays towards the many ways in which research can have broader impacts in society. As we continue to collect metrics and create indicators based on data that is easy to gather, we propose taking a step back to consider how to move from these opportune indicators towards a indicators based on a solid theoretical and conceptual basis. In this presentation, we first propose bounding our definition of impact to three main types: epistemic (e.g., new knowledge is created, or someone’s understanding is changed), problem solving (e.g., progress is made towards a problem that needs to be solved), and accountability (e.g., an activity is legitimized). Doing so allows us to understand how different indicators are needed depending on the type of impact being sought, and how the same indicator may mean very different things depending on the impact of interest. Similarly, we present how various research assessment frameworks focus on measuring three different outcomes: behavioural changes, policy changes, and innovation. In doing so, this presentation tackles many of the most important questions facing the altmetrics community: what does it mean for a document to be seen, shared, or commented on? What makes a good indicators? And, how can we use indicators to construct narratives that speak to the societal impact of research?