An interesting issue — especially to the library and information science community — that Google’s Max Senges raised at the Berlin Symposium on Internet and Society (#bsis11) was how the impact of the instiute’s research could be measured. HIIG’s mission is not just to produce excellent scholarship, but also to foster a meaningful dialog with a wide range of stakeholders beyond academia in relation to the issues that the institute investigates.

This approach has a number of implications that I want to briefly address. My views are my own, but I consider this an exciting test case for a modern, digital form of science evaluation. I believe three things can serve to make the institute’s research as transparent as possible:

  1. primary research results (i.e. papers) should be Open Access,
  2. journalistic contributions (essays, interviews, public speaking) beyond academic publications should be encouraged,
  3. communication of research via social media (blogs, Twitter) should be encouraged.

Open Access is of key importance

David Drummond emphasized the importance of Open Access in his speech at the Institute’s inauguration. A plausible step to make Open Access part of the institute’s culture could be to sign the Berlin Declaration and set up a dedicated repository of institute publications. HIIG could encourage its researchers to publish in gold road Open Access journals such as those listed in the DOAJ and encourage use of a green road approach par the SHERPA/Romeo list in the remaining cases. It could further encourage the use of Creative Commons or similar licences for scholarly publications.

Journalism and engagement with the general public

The public has a considerable interest in the issues investigated at HIIG and accordingly talking with and through traditional media channels will be of great importance. This should not merely be considered a form of marketing, but rather a form of dialog that will allow HIIG to fulfill its obligation to the public to act as an informed voice in civic debate around issues such as privacy and net neutrality. Engagement with the public via essays, interviews, public speaking and similar activities should be considered part of the institute members’ impact.

Social media’s role for science communication

The institute could consider social media as a central avenue of engaging with a wider public and recognize the willingness to use it accordingly. Scholarly blogging, for example, should be considered as part of a member’s research output instead of being regarded as a chiefly private enterprise. Social media activity cannot supplant traditional scholarly publishing, but it can serve to conduct conversations around research, get the attention of non-academics, and point to formal publications, among other things.

So how could this be implemented? The first and second points — making primary research results available and promoting journalistic contributions — are already standard practice elsewhere. The third is a little more tricky. Should it be important how many friends a researcher has on Facebook, or followers on Twitter (assuming he/she is even on these platforms)? Such an approach would be much too simplistic, but perhaps something a little more nuanced could be tried. How about encouraging the use of the #hiig (hash)tag wherever possible and continuously tracking the results? The institute could run its own blog — this may or may not work well, given that many contributors might already have their own one — or a blog planet, a site that just aggregates material from existing blogs that is #hiig-tagged.

These are just general ideas, but eventually they could coalesce into a framework for evaluating HIIG’s impact beyond purely scholarly (and faulty) forms of measurement such as the impact factor.

I’m currently relaxing at HIIG HQ, watching the staff make final preparations for the Institute’s formal inauguration, which will take place at 5pm today at Humboldt University’s Audimax (do drop by if you’re in the area, even if you haven’t been formally invited). I thought I’d share two statements on the launch of the Institute from Google, which were posted today and yesterday.

“Interaktion von Internet, Forschung und Gesellschaft verstehen” (in German)
David Drummond, VP Google, in German newspaper DIE ZEIT

Launching and Internet & Society Research Institute
Max Senges, Google Policy, Google European Public Policy Blog

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I’m heading to Berlin on an early morning train, among other things for next week’s Berlin Symposium on Internet and Society (#hiig2010). The program is available here and should catch your attention if you’re in Internet research. Be sure to give me a shout if you’re coming and want to have drinks some time.

The Symposium kicks off with the formal inauguration of the newly founded Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society (HIIG). This is the official name of what has so far been referred to by most people in the field as “the Google Institute” since the plan to launch it was publicly announced by Eric Schmidt in February.

I’m involved with the Institute as a project associate, which means that I’ll be working on one specific issue (a platform dubbed Regulation Watch — more on that soon) for the next few months. I’m excited to be part of an inspiring and highly interdisciplinary team of people who are all studying the Internet’s effect on culture and society in one way or another, which is an especially exciting prospect if you’ve been more or less on your own with your research interest in this area for the better part of your career.

As I’ve been meaning to get back to blogging anyway, I’ve decided to post updates on what’s happening at HIIG (or “hig”, rhyming with “twig”, as I’ve decided to call my new employer in spoken English) on a semi-regular basis. Next week’s inuaguration and symposium will be covered here with occasional short updates, news flashs and comments, as well as links to stuff other people have posted.

The institute’s mission is both to conduct research and to engage in an ongoing dialogue with the general public, an idea that is very much in accord with the vision of it’s patron. Alexander von Humboldt was a scientist, explorer, diplomat and, frankly, somewhat of a crazy person for trying things that most of his contemporaries considered both mad and futile. His research resonated with society and frequently stirred controversy. He challenged widely held beliefs about the world and was unwavering in his dedication to shedding light on scientific truth beyond superstition. I’m excited by HIIG’s aim to do something similar for our time’s unchartered continent — the net — and look forward to contributing to this goal.

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