Measuring the impact of research: an ongoing challenge

2 Jul

MaiteSolansMaite Solans, ISOR Group

Society has high expectations from research and wishes to know what are its benefits: social, decision-making, health, economic, etc., and in order to respond to these expectations, it’s important to assess its impact. An important aspect to consider when we want to evaluate the impact of research would be to choose our starting point: a project or an impact?

Let’s consider the first option. Our starting point is a research project. Now we want to find out whether it has led to a specific health benefit. In most cases, this cannot be found out immediately, on the contrary, we’ll have to spend enough time waiting for the effects to take place. As time passes, we then find that this project will contribute in some way or another to a greater number of impacts and also that other research projects have their own impact. If our starting point is a specific impact, the opposite will occur: that is, it will be difficult to connect an impact with a specific project and as time passes, many other research projects will have contributed to our specific impact.

Sense títolAdapted from Wooding S et al. Mental Health Retrosight. 2013

All this is due to the fact that an impact derives not only from a focused research but also from other involved incidental findings, relationships or other related investigations. There’s no handbook to describe how come research advances towards the practical application, and research, like everything around us, is not a single piece but constitutes part of a global world with multiple interconnections. How to determine to what extent a given search results in a particular impact, or conversely how to find out the original source of a particular impact becomes therefore an exciting challenge.

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