ImpactFinder Tool Helps Universities Measure the Impact of Research

Sample impact array generated by the ImpactFinder

The 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF) assessed research quality at universities through academic publications and wider benefits to society. The REF's primary goals are to assess each funding submission made by UK higher education institutions (HEIs), provide accountability for public investment in research, and produce evidence of the benefits of each investment.

In response to the REF, and building on our expertise in the field of research evaluation, RAND Europe developed ImpactFinder, an analysis and advice package to support universities as they prepare for assessments and, crucially, to help them evaluate the impact of their research portfolios.

What Is Research Impact?

Research impact is often broadly linked to social, cultural or economic change across a wide of beneficiaries, including individuals, public bodies, the private sector, organisations, communities, regions, nations and other entities. These changes could be linked to products, processes, behaviours, opinions, policies and practices at an individual, institutional or societal level.

Following the REF, UK universities have increased their focus on measuring and understanding their own research impact. This is needed to demonstrate the value of their research (e.g. whether it has provided any social, cultural or economic benefits) and justify the research investment to their funders.

A Tool to Measure Impact

RAND Europe supports universities to identify, measure and articulate their own research impact in the following ways:

  • training researchers to understand what impact means and how they can plan for it in their research
  • identifying case studies of impact, and
  • critically reviewing case studies or impact statements, and how they evidence impact, and
  • finding evidence to support claims of impact being made

The support is provided through a combination of workshops, a web-based survey tool, 1-2-1 sessions and ongoing consultation. In each case, RAND Europe works with the university to develop a comprehensive bespoke approach suitable for their needs and strategic challenges.

At the core of this advice package is RAND Europe’s ImpactFinder tool — a proven methodology for identifying impactful research which is used by a number of research funders. The ImpactFinder provides an overview of research impact and a basis for a more detailed examination of why and how it has achieved certain impact. The tool is a web questionnaire consisting of 300 questions which collects information across a range of social, cultural and economic impacts.

The results from the survey are presented in ‘impact arrays’, which give users an instant overview of the different impacts from their institution’s research portfolio. An example of an impact array is shown above. The columns represent different types of outputs and impacts. The rows represent different projects. The colouring of the squares represents the intensity or geographic reach of an impact.

The presentation of research impact in such a way provides universities and research funders with a visual demonstration of impact across its entire research portfolio. It also gives them the means to identify cases for more in-depth qualitative analysis and begin to collate the evidence needed to demonstrate research impact.