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Elsevier is a platinum sponsor of the 2016 NRF Awards. The article below reports on a survey that Elsevier conducted in May 2016. The article has been provided to the NRF by Elsevier, and therefore does not in any way represent the views of the NRF


Measuring the impact of science: a multi-stakeholder challenge

Researchers say their work has impact; an impact of science collaboration network can help them measure it

Science is not performed in a metaphorical vacuum; its results have impacts on society and the economy, and increasingly funders and institutions are looking to understand the broader impact of research. Despite this, a recent Elsevier survey revealed that while 66% of researchers track their scholarly influence, only 46% monitor the societal impact of their work.

The survey asked 3,511 researchers around the world questions about the impact of their research. What impact – if any – do they think it has? How do they measure their impact? And do they have the support they need to demonstrate the impact of their work?

Impact: a multi-stakeholder measurement challenge

Research grants are competitive and today many funding bodies require applicants to provide information on the impact they expect their work to have on society. This information may include data on the impact of previous research, collected by the institution, publisher or individual researcher.

The researcher’s view of impact

Elsevier’s recent survey aimed to understand how researchers see the impact of their work and find out what can be done to improve its measurement. It was part of a larger survey examining the drivers and influences on the communication of scholarly research, run in May 2016.

Elsevier’s Director of Strategy, Business Development and Marketing, John Walker said: “The survey was enlightening in many ways, and some of the results were unexpected. A significant number of researchers believe their research has an impact beyond academia, and many say it should. But less than half actually track the wider impact of their research. There is an opportunity here – by helping researchers with the right tools we can enable them to evaluate and demonstrate the impact of their research, giving them access to funding and public engagement and ultimately boosting their impact on society.”

Two-thirds of survey respondents track their scholarly influence, but only 46% monitor the societal impact of their work. Similarly, less than half of respondents (45%) agreed that science should always have an impact. Those who agreed mentioned the source of their funding and that research should benefit society. As a biological sciences researcher from Spain said: “We work mostly with public money, so society should know what we do and ideally it should impact society.”

Not all respondents felt their work had impact, but many would value support:

  • 1% said their research had no impact at all

  • Impact reported included improved quality of life (31%), commercial application (25%) and appropriate government policy (17%)

  • 43% said they feel well supported by their institutions in communicating their societal impact, for example by communications departments

  • 36% feel they would benefit from improved systems for tracking impact

  • 33% said they would appreciate training

We need to provide the right tools for researchers to track their impact, John Walker explained, “There is something of a catch 22 in this area, in the sense that there will be limited attention unless there are technologies to support the tracking and measurement of impact. But unless there is evidence of attention and commercial demand, there will be limited investment in these technologies. Nevertheless, at Elsevier we are investing and making progress in this area. For example, our SciVal tool can now analyse and benchmark a university’s level of academic-industry collaboration, as well citations from patents to academic articles. We will soon be adding metrics on the level of media attention paid to a university’s output, and we plan to add other impact-related metrics.”


About Elsevier

Elsevier is a world-leading provider of information solutions that enhance the performance of science, health, and technology professionals, empowering them to make better decisions, deliver better care, and sometimes make groundbreaking discoveries that advance the boundaries of knowledge and human progress. Elsevier provides web-based, digital solutions — among them ScienceDirect, Scopus, Elsevier Research Intelligence and ClinicalKey — and publishes over 2,500 journals, including The Lancet and Cell, and more than 35,000 book titles, including a number of iconic reference works. Elsevier is part of RELX Group, a world-leading provider of information and analytics for professional and business customers across industries. www.elsevier.com