This week’s blog posts will focus on answering some of the questions that have come up during our recent webinars. Today we’re looking at questions that came up during our introductory session which covered what research impact is and how it can be achieved. Later in the week we’ll look at questions about research communication and social media.
How can you measure the impact of basic research vs applied research?
Tracking and measuring the impact of basic research takes time. Your research may have impact well beyond your own field. You can’t always predict where the impact will be.
“Research well performed and well described has the potential for implications and fields that are totally unanticipated, or in fields that don’t even exist at the time the experiments were performed”
Jack Levin, MD (below)
Professor of Laboratory Medicine
University of California San Francisco School of Medicine
There are tools that make it easier to identify impact you didn’t imagine you’d have – the data captured by Altmetric (and integrated into Kudos) will show you where discussion of your research is taking place, including fields and publications you wouldn’t normally follow.
It’s important to track conversations that might lead to unexpected developments – as Jack Levin, MD, says in the video above, you may meet someone at a conference and discover a method or some data you have could be useful in their research. Make sure you have a record of such discussions so you or others can track in due course whether your research had an impact on theirs.
Some argue that it’s easier to track the impact of applied research. There is some logic to this; the more focused nature of the research question means you have a stronger idea of who will ‘use’ your findings, which in theory makes it easier to follow up with those audiences to find out whether your research has changed behaviour, improved outcomes, etc. You may be in direct communication with the people whose behaviour, attitudes or outcomes you are trying to impact. Again, it’s important to track your communications so you can follow up in due course and determine the scale and nature of the impact.
In summary: impact (in its various forms) is the same, and should be measured in the same way, regardless of the type of research. It’s just going to take longer for that impact to be evident for basic research as opposed to applied research. Either way, tracking interest in your research along the way will help you know where to look for your impact in due course.
Are there kinds of research that cannot have an impact on society?
All research has the potential to have an impact on society – if it is properly conceptualised and communicated. I sometimes use the analogy of the tree falling in the forest (if no-one is there, does it make a sound): if no-one knows about your research, can it have an impact? Making sure that the people who can apply or benefit from your research is key to ensuring that it can have an impact. Upstream of that, you need to factor into your research question the nature of the impact you believe your research could have – this will help you design a study that has the greatest potential to make a difference. Sometimes it will take a long time for that impact to become apparent. Richard Berks writes well about how the majority of medical research funding is spent on “understanding the underlying biology of how diseases develop”, and analysis has shown that it can take “over 12 years and often much longer“ for that basic research to result in (for example) a new drug coming to market – and then more time to assess the impact of that new drug on health and wellbeing. If you are doing the basic biology at the beginning of that long process, it can be hard to imagine the longer term impact potential, but that doesn’t mean that potential is not there or that that impact won’t happen. Richard’s post has great tips for seeing the longer-term potential impact of your research.
How can you increase research impact in public health?
Here are some quickfire tips:
- Involve potential beneficiaries in your study design – do research that really targets a known public health problem.
- Make sure that all the possible stakeholders are involved – whether in designing your study (ideally, but not necessarily feasible in practice) or by contributing baseline data and ongoing data sets, participating in trials etc.
- Communicate often and appropriately to relevant audiences – don’t assume that publishing academic papers is enough to bring about public health impact. Explain your research in plain language, and use channels and formats that are likely to be used by the people you want to reach – leaflets, postcards, posters in medical centres and so on.
How do we make an impact with small resources?
- Make sure you know what works and what doesn’t. Don’t spend your precious time and money creating outputs and undertaking communications that aren’t reaching or interesting your audiences. Kudos helps you track which channels and activities are bringing more people to your research.
- Set some specific goals – we want to improve awareness of our recommendations among teachers in high schools, say, and decide on the most meaningful way to measure that (e.g. a survey at the start and end of your project period). Focus your resources specifically on achieving that goal – instead of creating an expensive video and promoting it widely but randomly on social media, how about sending a letter to the head teachers of the schools in a specific area.
At Kudos we have spent 10 years helping researchers develop and broaden impact through better research communication. Get started now – you can register for free and then pick the tools and services you need.