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Attitudes to impact shifting among research offices


Social and policy impact increasingly important for research administrators, but academics stick to citations

Research office leaders are increasingly likely to measure the impact of research through non-traditional means while their academic colleagues remain focused on journal prestige and citations, according to a survey.

The results suggest that despite recent backing from major research funders for initiatives such as the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (Dora), which encourages movement away from traditional citation-based metrics of research impact, attitudes among researchers are proving slow to change.

The survey of 308 researchers and 106 senior research office staff in the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia was carried out by Ex Libris, a higher education software and services provider and the parent company of Research Professional News.

Of researchers surveyed, 95 per cent of those who monitor their own research impact did so using citations and 71 per cent using the impact factor of journals in which they publish research. In comparison, only 68 per cent of research office leaders use citations and 49 per cent use impact factors.

While just 28 per cent of researchers said they take into consideration the social impact of their research, 57 per cent of research office leaders considered social impact as an important metric. Similar discrepancies were found on measuring impact by looking at how research influences policy, and by looking at cross institution collaboration.

“Though this trend was already evident in the past, the Covid-19 pandemic has intensified the focus on societal impact as an indicator of the influence of academic research on public policy,” wrote the survey report’s authors. The proportion of research office leaders measuring social impact grew by 13 percentage points between 2020 and 2021.

Research office leaders also increasingly focused on demonstrating the impact of research, with 50 per cent reporting this as a main priority for their institution in 2021 compared to 38 per cent in 2020.