Search for more impact undermined by skills gap – report

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Researchers are keen for their work to have more impact – but they are often constrained by a lack of skills and resources, according to a report.

A project led by Kudos gathered input from researchers, university administrators, funders and others with a role or interest in ensuring that research engages and benefits audiences beyond academia. The work was sponsored by The International Center for the Study of Research, the American Chemical Society, American Society for Microbiology, Brill Publishers, Karger Publishers and Royal Society of Chemistry. 

The study combined desk research and interviews with a survey of more than 10,000 researchers, exploring motivations, responsibilities, target audiences, channels and metrics relating to broader impacts. Key findings include:

  • The majority (95.3 per cent of respondents) want to achieve broader impacts with their work;
  • The most frequently cited motivations for wanting to achieve broader impacts were a desire to solve real-world problems (65.8%); to make a difference to others (61.9 per cent); and to improve perceptions of the value of research (53.4 per cent);
  • Approximately half of respondents (50.9 per cent) considered themselves to have primary responsibility for achieving broader impacts, but their continued reliance on academic channels (e.g. scholarly publications, used by 76.3 per cent in this context, and conferences, used by 73.0 per cent) suggest a lack of understanding either of what broader impacts are, or how they are best achieved;
  • Almost three quarters of respondents (73.7 per cent) agreed that the growing focus on broader impacts has resulted in more collaboration between the academic and non-academic sectors, with 77.0 per cent saying this is expected or encouraged by their employer and yet 46.9% said they are not given enough support in this area
  • Only 41.3 per cent of respondents considered that the metrics, indicators or narratives used by their employer to evaluate their broader impacts are fit for purpose, with 26.9 per cent considered that current metrics actively discourage collaboration with researchers in non-academic sectors.

‘Although researchers recognise the value of broader impacts, on a practical level they are constrained from taking the necessary steps to achieve them,’ said Melinda Kenneway, CEO of Kudos. ‘There is a knowledge and skills gap at the individual level, and a lack of resource at the institutional level for understanding and exploiting the full impact potential of individual research projects. This study has identified several opportunities for new services and initiatives that would enable not only institutions, but also publishers, societies and other related organisations, to better support the development of broader impacts.’