PRiSM Furthered Understanding of 'Science of Science'
PRiSM was a research unit established in 2010 to deliver research-based evidence to the Department of Health (DH), which oversees the UK’s National Institute for Health Research (NIHR). PRiSM undertook over 60 projects relevant to the needs of decision makers involved in developing UK health and social care-related research and development (R&D) policy. PRiSM was also at the forefront of exploring science policy and its effectiveness, while helping further the understanding of ‘science of science’ in the UK, Europe and internationally.
Three key questions, amongst others, underpinned the work of the PRiSM unit, which was a collaboration between RAND Europe and the Policy Institute at King’s College London.
- How can funders support research and researchers to bring about the greatest good for society?
- How do public R&D funders understand the impact of the research they support?
- Which data help to make better policy decisions in health and medical research?
Over the course of its seven years of funding, PRISM delivered insights from numerous projects in a wide range of contexts and countries. These have included:
- The landmark ‘Retrosight’ studies, which explored in detail the ways in which mental health research and cardiovascular and stroke research have had both academic and wider societal impacts; and lessons learned from these studies for funders.
- Studies on alternatives to peer review, helping research funders develop the most appropriate approach for funding their specific research needs.
- Evaluations of ongoing programmes supported by the NIHR such as the NIHR Leadership programme, Invention for Innovation (i4i) programme, and the Healthcare Technology Cooperatives.
- Reviews of the funding landscape in different areas (e.g. complex trauma research in the UK, and the mental health research ecosystem).
- Bibliometric studies supporting research funding assessments, which ranged from specific analyses to inform peer review panels’ decisions in relation to major NIHR funding schemes (e.g. Biomedical Research Centres (and Units), Patient Safety Translational Research Centres, Collaborations for Leadership in Applied Health Research, Health Protection Research Units, Senior Investigators), to a broader study examining the effectiveness of bibliometrics as an evaluation tool.
- A study that analysed breakthroughs in the treatment of four selected conditions of ill health and sought to identify potentially transferable lessons for the dementia context.
- A seminal review of the ways in which NIHR has benefited the health research landscape in its inaugural ten years, commissioned for the NIHR’s tenth anniversary in 2016.
Over the course of the unit, PRiSM has provided research, analysis and advice to support the effective implementation of the Department of Health’s research strategy and to improve research to support decision-making more widely in the health research sector. PRiSM’s outputs were crafted to engage a diverse research and policy audience, via both targeted communications activities and a dedicated ‘Science of Science’ Twitter feed. Some specific impacts include:
- PRiSM helped to establish the NIHR Dashboard, which feeds into Prime Ministers’ Questions on a weekly basis, and also allows the Chief Medical Officer and other senior decision makers to access accurate and real-time data on NIHR activity anywhere in the world.
- The study on dementia helped to inform the Prime Minister’s 2020 Mental Health Challenge document. They were also discussed at the Dementia Research Champions group and informed discussions around Raj Long’s report on global action on regulation.
- A study on time lags that describes and quantifies time lags in the health research translation process has been cited almost 200 times (as of September 2017).
- The study on alternatives to peer review has been downloaded over 7,500 times and has helped generate new thinking about research funding allocation methods.
- The many bibliometric studies that have been carried out over the years have supported peer review selection panels’ decision making in relation to several major NIHR funding schemes (e.g. Biomedical Research Centres). These schemes have allocated significant funding to biomedical and health research within England.