Cover: The changing research landscape and reflections on national research assessment in the future

The changing research landscape and reflections on national research assessment in the future

Published Oct 3, 2019

by Sarah Parks, Daniela Rodriguez-Rincon, Sarah Parkinson, Catriona Manville

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Research Questions

  1. Why do we assess research and how might that change in the next 5 to 10 years?
  2. How do researchers expect the forms of output they are producing to change in the next 5 to 10 years?
  3. How do researchers expect the types of societal impact their research produces to change in the next 5 to 10 years?
  4. How do researchers expect the research environment they are in to change in the next 5 to 10 years?
  5. How could national research assessment exercises learn from developments in peer review?

RAND Europe conducted a study to explore current and future changes in the research landscape and how this may affect the nature of national research assessment. We explored the following questions and how responses to them may change in the next 5 to 10 years: (i) why assess research? (ii) what is being assessed? And (iii) how are we assessing research. To explore these questions, we used literature reviews, workshops, a nation-wide survey of academics and a consultation of research organisations. We found that the rationale for and emphasis of research assessment is has evolved and is likely to continue to evolve in the future. Survey analysis revealed that researchers currently produce a diversity of outputs, a trend which is expected to continue, and that these vary by discipline. In addition, more researchers expect that there will be societal impacts from their research in the future, although the balance of types of impact is expected to remain largely the same. Researchers gave reasons for why they expect the landscape to change, and factors driving the changes. Finally, we investigate how technological advances and cultural shifts could support peer review in research assessment in the future.

Key Findings

  • The reasons for doing research assessment can be summarised by six 'A's: analysis, advocacy, allocation, accountability, acclaim and adaptation.
  • The rationale for, and emphasis of, research assessment is likely to evolve in the future.
  • Researchers currently produce a diversity of output forms, which vary by discipline, and expect to produce greater diversity of outputs aimed at a wider audience in the future.
  • Researchers expect journal articles and conference contributions to remain the dominant forms of output in many disciplines.
  • Researchers' decisions on which forms of output to produce are influenced by factors such as career progression and personal preference, as well as institutional incentives and funder requirements.
  • More researchers expect there to be societal impacts from their research in the future, although the type of impact differs across disciplines.
  • Researchers expect to continue to focus the majority of their efforts on producing outputs rather than impact.
  • The perceived importance of most drivers differs significantly across disciplines, although collaborating with other academics is the most important driver of change overall. Most drivers were seen as more important by PhD students and early-career researchers.
  • Changes to support and drive developments are required at both an institutional and a sector level.
  • Peer review is the predominant method for research assessment in the UK, and this is not expected to change.
  • Technological and cultural shifts are both needed and happening.
  • Nationwide assessment should consider the needs of different disciplines.
  • National research assessment is an important driver of behaviour for the sector.

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was prepared for Research England and conducted by RAND Europe.

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