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Global research impact 'needs evidential support'

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Research institutions should demonstrate solid evidence of their impact on both society and the economy, according to a report from Digital Science and an international collaboration of higher education professionals and policy experts.

As more countries hold research institutions accountable for the socio­economic impact of research, the report gathers insight and guidance from leading professionals across the globe.

Perspectives in the report include:

  • Saba Hinrichs and Jonathan Grant from King’s College London ​reflecting on the first UK assessment of research impact with the 2014 Research Excellence Framework and conclude that impact assessment, whilst expensive, is worthwhile. They highlight the global nature of research impact of UK­-led research and demonstrate that every country in the world was named in the UK impact case studies;
  • Tim Cahill, from The Conversation, Australia, explaining the status of impact assessment in Australia and the likely role of ‘engagement metrics’ in the new Australian assessment framework, which is set to include impact for the first time;
  • Lisa Murphy of Science Foundation Ireland,​ the country’s largest research funding agency, describing its vision of becoming the best science funding agency in the world at creating impact from excellent research and demonstrating clear value for money invested; and
  • Fiona Goff and Phil Heads, Natural Environment Research Council and Research Councils UK, explaining how they use the UK’s impact assessment exercise to support the case for the UK government’s Science Budget; how impact stories play a key role in communicating and celebrating success and provide public accountability.

Stephen Hill, head of policy at the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), ​which ran the 2014 UK impact assessment, said: 'Delivering broad societal benefits needs to be at the heart of the research endeavour. Understanding, collecting and analysing evidence of impact is an essential part of an effective research base of the future.​'

The report has been produced to provide a pivot for discussion at a HEFCE sponsored workshop organised by Vertigo Ventures on 'The Evidence of Impact', to be held at The Royal Institution of Great Britain on March 24. It will be attended by representatives of the UK learned societies; delegates from all subject areas will discuss what makes useful evidence for impact. It will also be made available to the wider international research community in order to prompt further discussions.

Jonathan Adams, chief scientist at Digital Science, added: 'Researchers, and the bodies that represent them, should be involved in discussions around what makes useful evidence to back claims of the socio­economic impact of research. Every research discipline looks at impact in a different way. Each needs to reflect on what constitutes proper, acceptable and appropriate evidence of economic, social or other impact, and on what constitutes strong or weak achievement.

'Sciences and arts will differ. So will professionally­ focused areas, like social policy, and academic disciplines, like sociology. And, while we use citation impact in the same way across continents, I doubt the cultural construction of research impact will make it an easy global comparator. The international, expert contributors to this report provide key material to help researchers work though this challenge.'