Understanding the Relative Valuations of Research Impact

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UK Research Councils "encourage researchers to consider the potential contribution that their research can make to the economy and society from the outset, and the resources required to carry out appropriate and project specific knowledge exchange impact activities". As part of their funding applications, researchers must submit a 'Pathway to Impact' section which is peer reviewed by referees and panel members.

Similarly the Higher Education Funding Council of England (HEFCE) will be assessing impact using a case study approach as part of the Research Excellence Framework. Case studies will be reviewed by academic peers and non-academic experts providing a private, public and third sector perspective.

However, in assessing the adequacy/quality of these impact claims, reviewers cannot currently draw on comprehensive evidence of the views of beneficiaries (i.e., the general population) or the producers of research (i.e., biomedical and health researchers) to qualify or justify their recommendations. It remains unclear how beneficiaries value research impact, how such values vary across different groups and more fundamentally if the UK population understands research impact.

In the absence of knowledge about — and methods for assessing — values of beneficiaries and funders of research, policy that directs researchers to estimate impact and research funders to value such impacts rests on weak empiric foundations.


This study, conducted by researchers at RAND Europe, Kings College London, and the University of Cardiff, aims to address this gap by refining and adapting a survey-based approach known as Best-Worst Scaling (BWS) to analyse the relative valuations of research impact as perceived by the general population and researchers. This study will focus on biomedical and health research and will contribute to the Medical Research Council's objective to fund studies that "Deliver user/beneficiary views on the contribution of academic research and MRC input to this".

The proposed study comprises 5 phases:

  1. Desk and qualitative research in the identification and classification of impacts. A thorough desk based review will catalogue various types of impacts and models for classifying them. We will then refine and develop this classification in four focus groups with the general public and interviews with biomedical and health researchers. The output of this phase will be a conceptual framework with different types of biomedical and health related impact and different intensities of each impact category for use in the BWS survey.
  2. Development of quantitative survey. Based on the first phase we will design and test a survey instrument to elicit relative ranks of different types of impact. The questionnaire will be tested through cognitive interviews and the full fieldwork procedures through a pilot with the public and researchers. The output of this phase will be the final survey instrument.
  3. Fieldwork with researchers and the general public. We will use an online panel to survey 1000 members of the public and the list of existing MRC grantholders to survey 500 health and biomedical scientists. The output of this phase will be a dataset for analysis.
  4. Analysis of researcher and public preferences. The analysis will involve two steps. First we will conduct a review and exploratory statistical analysis to identify associations and trends that require consideration in the modelling work. This would include sample composition across key socioeconomic and demographic variables and checking respondents' understanding of the survey (whether they were able to respond to the questions). Second we will develop a BWS model to (i) derive a full ranking of the impact statements by the general public and health and biomedical scientists, and (ii) explore the extent to which preferences are consistent across the two stakeholder groups. The output of this phase will be the study's main findings.
  5. Reporting and dissemination. Findings will be widely disseminated to policy and research communities using a number of channels, including peer reviewed publications, policy briefs and videos.
Learn more (kcl.ac.uk)

Project Team

Jonathan Grant (Principal Investigator), The Policy Institute at King's College London
Dimitris Potoglou (Co-Investigator), Cardiff University
Alexandra Pollitt (Co-Investigator)
Suzanne King (Co-Investigator)
Peter Burge (Co-Investigator)
Susan Guthrie (Researcher)
Steven Wooding (Researcher)
Sunil Patil (Researcher)