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Research Questions

  1. What are the range of benefits of research and innovation, for example across economic benefits, health and wellbeing, sustainability, and social and cultural enrichment?
  2. How are the benefits of research and innovation currently assessed or measured in the UK, looking at both the datasets that are available and the limitations of the current data?
  3. What is the distribution of benefits, economic and beyond, across the UK, viewed for example through the lenses of population, place or sector and looked at over time?
  4. What are some of the alternative metrics and approaches that have been developed in other countries or contexts?

The UK government has committed to increase research and development (R&D) spending to 2.4% of GDP by 2027, with a long-term goal of 3%. Existing evidence shows significant returns from R&D investment, estimated to be in the region of 20–30%. Although the existing evidence provides a compelling case for the benefits that research and innovation (R&I) can deliver, there are numerous benefits from R&I that are not well measured by economic approaches or, in many cases, not well understood. These include benefits to culture, public engagement, social cohesion and the environment, amongst others.

RAND Europe conducted an evidence synthesis to characterise the range and nature of benefits resulting from research, how these can be measured, gaps in the existing evidence and how they might be addressed. Our review and evidence synthesis found that economic analyses are a useful approach that can be used to measure and characterise some of the benefits of investment in R&I. However, many of the benefits from R&I are not easily monetised, and there are numerous benefits from R&I that are not yet well captured or fully understood. There is also limited evidence on the distribution of impacts of R&I by region or population groups and over time. There are examples of novel practice in the literature, as well as useful and underutilised datasets both within and beyond the R&I space, which could help develop a more comprehensive, nuanced picture of the range of benefits of R&I in the UK.

Key Findings

  • Existing evidence shows significant returns from R&D investment, estimated to be in the region of 20–30%. Although the existing evidence provides a compelling case for the benefits that R&I can deliver, there are numerous benefits from R&I that are not well measured or, in many cases, not well understood. These include benefits to culture, public engagement, social cohesion and the environment, amongst others.
  • Methodologically most evaluations of the benefits from R&I are dominated by a few methods, notably total factor productivity-based economic analyses, case studies, and portfolio-specific evaluations. We also note that the potential of some key datasets is not being realised.
  • Economic analyses are a useful approach that can be used to measure and characterise the benefits of investment in R&I. However, many of the benefits from R&I are not easily monetised, and there are numerous benefits from R&I that are not yet well measured or, in some cases, fully understood.
  • There is limited evidence on the distribution of impacts of R&I by region or population groups and over time.
  • There are examples of novel practice in the literature, as well as useful and underutilised datasets both within and beyond the R&I space, which could help develop a more comprehensive, nuanced picture of the range of benefits of R&I in the UK.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One

    Introduction

  • Chapter Two

    What are the benefits of R&I?

  • Chapter Three

    Mapping existing evidence and methods for capturing the benefits of research and innovation

  • Chapter Four

    Discussion and conclusions

  • Appendix A

    Methods

  • Appendix B

    Review of existing frameworks for assessing the benefits of R&I

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was prepared for the Royal Society and conducted by RAND Europe.

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