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Get ready for impact, universities advised

Universities in Australia need to start adapting to the impact agenda and develop strategies to achieve impact from their research, a report by UK-based research organisation RAND Europe has said.

RAND Europe was called upon by the Australian Technology Network to assess its Excellence in Innovation for Australia trial, a pilot exercise that saw 12 universities putting together 162 case studies to show the impact of their research. It concluded that while Australia is quite advanced in its thinking about impact, there is a need to continue to embed the culture in universities. Internal impact strategies should look at both information management as well as how to maximise impact.

Changes would need to be made if the same exercise was to be included as part of the wider Excellence for Research in Australia assessment, the report warns. And the actual purpose of the exercise should be agreed, particularly if the innovation assessment is to be used to inform funding allocations.

If the project were to be scaled up, RAND says it would be important to consider the balance between the cost of taking part and the potential benefits. RAND Europe estimated that each institution spent between $5,000 and $10,000 putting together each case study. Therefore, institutions would need around $100,000 of funding per case study project to make the exercise worthwhile.

In the report, RAND Europe suggests that ‘contribution’ should become part of the assessment process in the EIA. This includes considering how the research has contributed to the impact described in the case study as well as how individual researchers or teams contributed to the research. The pilot focused on measuring the significance of the impact achieved and the reach of that impact, but RAND Europe argues that it is important to take into account the varying degrees to which participants in a project contribute to it.

The report’s authors conclude that the quality of case studies could be improved, for example by making changes to the guidance provided to institutions or by providing more training on how to write a good impact case study. Highlighting ‘potential’ rather than ‘realised’ impact was a particular problem and RAND Europe suggests providing institutions with examples of strong case studies to help them with their own.