Looking for Impact? Research Funders Encouraged to Be More 'DECISIVE'

For Release

January 28, 2016

Researchers at RAND Europe and the Policy Institute at King's College London have published a series of eight lessons aimed at biomedical and health research funders.

Drawing together key findings from a decade's worth of studies that investigated the social and economic impacts of biomedical science, the lessons form a 'DECISIVE' approach to research funding:

Different skills: Fund researchers with more than just research skills - individuals are key when it comes to translation of research into wider impact

Engaged: Suggest your researchers engage with non-academic stakeholders to help their work have a wider impact

Clinical: For greater impact on patient care within 10-20 years, fund clinical rather than basic research

Impact on society: To have wider impact, don't just fund for academic excellence

Size: Recognise that bigger isn't necessarily better when it comes to the size of a research grant

International: For high academic impact, fund researchers who collaborate internationally and support their efforts

Variety: Be aware that simple metrics will only capture some of the impact of your research

Expectations: Accept that the broadest social and economic impact will come from just a few projects

The lessons are derived from characteristics of research that delivered impacts both within and outside of academia. Some relate to principal investigators' wider skills: their attitude and conviction, ability to work across boundaries and think strategically about impact. Others are more procedural: provide support for structured engagement activities with collaborators, policymakers and regulators, and promote international collaboration.

Academic excellence (as measured by bibliometrics) was by itself no more likely to lead to wider impacts than research with a low academic impact. In this and a number of other cases, the lessons run against what might be considered “norms” of research funding. For example, funders should look at credentials other than just a principal investigator's publication impact, and not expect substantial social and economic impacts from more than a minority of funded research projects.

Professor Jonathan Grant, director of the Policy Institute at King's College London, said: “Across the three areas of research we looked at, we found that clinical rather than basic research led to greater impacts over a 10-20 year time scale. Principal investigators conducting basic research were more likely to have impacts on patient care if their research was clinically motivated.”

Steven Wooding, senior research leader at RAND Europe, cautioned against the lessons being used as an “impact recipe”:

“We're not suggesting that all of the factors in the DECISIVE approach are required for research to have an impact. But based on our findings we would encourage funders to revisit their research strategies and decision-making processes, and consider how they might incorporate characteristics associated with wider impact.”

To view the report visit http://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR1132.html.

For further information or to be put in touch with the report's lead author, please contact Jack Melling at jmelling@rand.org

Notes to editors

[1] The DECISIVE approach summarises evidence from a body of research investigating the social and economic impacts of medical research. Findings are based on three studies spanning arthritis, cardiovascular and stroke, and mental health research. Together these studies form part of the 'Project Retrosight' series: a case study-based series of reviews estimating returns from medical health research from samples of research grants spanning the last 10-20 years.

[2] This work is the latest in a series of health economic studies focusing on the returns on public and charitable investment in musculoskeletal research. This study is currently being conducted in partnership with the Health Economic Research Group at Brunel University, with support from Arthritis Research UK, The Wellcome Trust, the Medical Research Council, the Department of Health and the Academy of Medical Sciences.

[3] The Policy Research in Science and Medicine (PRiSM) unit brings together research expertise from RAND Europe and the Policy Institute at King's College London. The PRiSM unit delivers research-based evidence to the UK's National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) to support the NIHR's research strategy, Best Research for Best Health, and contributes to the science of science policy field in the UK, Europe and internationally.

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