The focus on impact is laudable. Indeed, one of the reasons why I became an academic was in the hope that in some small way my research would be able to make a difference to someone's life and to society, more generally. I still hang on to that - perhaps idealistic - dream. At the same time, there is definitely a debate to be had about the potentially stifling effects of the growing attention paid to impact in the social sciences. My concern is that the focus on impact may obscure the quest for understanding, knowledge and for learning, which are all laudable aims in themselves and which were also part of the reason why I became an academic.
My other concern is that the focus on impact might also consign theory and the more scholarly aspects of social science research to the cutting-room floor, at least until busy academics can find the time to pick up these pieces again and mould them into publications for consumption by our peers. Yet, theory should be at the heart of any academic discipline as it can be used to test, refute and confirm hypotheses, but can also lead to a development of theory. Though, the exact role played by theory in research is contentious, its centrality to research is not.
Anyway, I digress, what I wanted to write is that in a few small ways I think my research is slowly percolating its way through the ether and is beginning to make an impact. First of all, I was delighted to hear the news that the provision of appropriate adults was to be extended to 17 years olds through a revision in the PACE Codes of Practice in October 2013. An anomaly in the law meant that, hitherto, 17 year olds were classified as adults in the police station, unlike in other parts of the criminal justice system. The report that I researched and wrote research for the Howard League on the overnight detention of children is one of the few studies to have flagged up this important issue and I would hope, therefore, that it was used to contribute to the public debate and subsequent change in government policy.
Second, today, I rather excitedly discovered that my research about access to legal advice in police stations (Skinns, 2011) was included in discussions about the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill 2013:Equality Impact Assessment. In particular, it has been used in discussions about when a person's right of access to a solicitor arises, how this is communicated to the person and the circumstances in which this right can be waived, taking into account the likely vulnerabilities of detainees. Let’s hope that these provisions are adopted in law in the near future.
I hope that my new research on ‘good’ police custody will also make a similar, if not greater contribution to the world of policing and beyond, though it will probably be a few years before I am in a position to judge this. Watch this space.