Making the Grade

Methodologies for Assessing and Evidencing Research Impact

Published in: 7 Essays on Impact. DESCRIBE Project Report for Jisc. University of Exeter / Dean et al. (eds.) (Exeter, UK: University of Exeter, 2013), p. 25-43

Posted on RAND.org on January 01, 2013

by Molly Morgan Jones, Jonathan Grant

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The UK invested £27.4 billion in research in 2011; £7.1 billion from public sources and £17.4 billion from private sources, with the remainder of expenditure coming from abroad. This money funds a broad spectrum of 'basic' and 'applied' research, from improving our fundamental understanding of the cosmos to testing the effectiveness of new drugs on patient populations. But assessing the impact of any research remains challenging. Does it improve the wealth and wellbeing of societies? If so, what is the nature or size of that impact? This paper explores whether existing methodologies are up to the task of evaluating impact across different sectors, and different criteria for assessing research impact. We look at recent methodological developments that attempt to account for the complex interactions occurring within and between research disciplines and society. We analyse traditional and new methodologies and offer some thoughts for ways in which current standards of evidencing the impact of research can be strengthened and expanded. The paper is structured around four key messages: The choice of methodological approach must be informed by the objectives of the research impact assessment. There is a set of common methodological challenges that vary in importance depending on the objectives of the research impact assessment. Each method has its own strengths and weaknesses, and these vary in importance depending on the objectives of the research impact assessment. New methods are likely to face the same set of trade-offs. We conclude by reflecting on challenges for the future of research impact assessment.

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