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More misunderstanding of research assessment

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I am astonished at the persistence of misunderstandings about research assessment. Yet again they are published in the aj, this time by your correspondent Katherine Shonfield. She claims that none of the following are accepted as research:

'designing an innovative built project

publishing a book developing an innovative view of architectural history or presenting a new understanding of architectural technology

testing innovative technologies through building

testing and developing theory through the design of built architectural projects'.

She is of course quite right to feel that such work should be considered as research in our field. However I have good news for Katherine Shonfield: all these are eligible for submission for the Research Assessment Exercise (rae) 2001. Indeed, I have even better news for her: they were all admissible in the last rae of 1996! Perhaps she should do some research into this before writing.

For those in doubt, here is the official definition of research as used by the Higher Education Funding Council in 1996 and repeated again for the next exercise in 2001:

'Research' for the purpose of the rae is to be understood as original investigation undertaken in order to gain knowledge and understanding. It includes work of direct relevance to the needs of commerce and industry as well as the public and voluntary sectors; the invention and generation of ideas, images, performances and artefacts, including design, where these lead to new or substantially improved insights; the use of existing knowledge in experimental development to produce new or substantially improved material devices, devices, products and processes, including design and construction.'

In addition to this general definition covering all subjects, the panel responsible for the built environment gave specific indications that it would consider designs whether built or not. The panel also quite specifically indicated its intention to consider books and articles in professional journals - such as the aj - as well as refereed journals. In addition, I have spoken to people at many organisations (including the riba, schosa and many schools of architecture) to try to counter these persistent misunderstandings.

Those intending to submit work for the 2001 rae would do better to read the actual documentation from hefc than this remarkably ill-informed article by Katherine Shonfield.

Professor Bryan Lawson, University of Sheffield

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