Impact Practitioners

Overview of indicators for assessing research impact 

By 02/03/2023

This 27-page taxonomy by Canadian scientists Amanda Cooper and Samantha Shewchuk presents an overview of more than 400 indicators for social sciences and humanities. The authors gathered these indicators from 110 research impact resources in 32 countries and sorted them into six categories based on the Canadian Federation of the Humanities and Social Sciences Impact Framework. These categories are Scholarship, Capacity building, Economy, Society and Culture, Practice, and Policy

The taxonomy is a great resource to help you pick the indicators most relevant to your project and to see the breadth of measurements you can use in assessing research impact. It’s useful for academics, research staff, those responsible for measuring and evaluating research projects and decision-makers at higher education institutions. It’s very accessible, clear and easy to use. 

Let’s briefly look at the categories and a few examples of potential indicators from the taxonomy:

       A. Scholarship:

  • Bibliometrics and indices 
  • Outputs
  • Collaborations
  • Funding
  • Prizes and awards
  • Acknowledgements (for example, citations in grant applications, appearing at invited lectures)
  • Service (your voluntary work such as organising international conferences and editing or contributing to a professional journal)
  • Advancement of knowledge (new tools or methodologies stemming from your research)
  • Process (scholarly lectures and other professional presentations you have given and the number of conference papers/proceedings

B. Capacity:

  • Highly qualified personnel (for example, the number of students participating in research, the satisfaction of alumni, employers and students)
  • Teaching and Learning (your faculty’s credentials, number of accredited programs and your invitations to contribute to the teaching literature)
  • Additional Funding (funding you’ve received from external sources)

Impact Practitioners quote: "Research productivity and impact are complex; therefore relying on one measure or factor to evaluate your research performance is problematic and very likely to provide a distorted picture."

C. Economy:

  • Innovation (for instance the percentage of projects that lead to commercialised innovations)
  • Commercialisation (patents, spin-offs, copyright) Creation of tools

D: Society and culture:

  • Collaborations with non-academic partners
  • Contribution to the societal debate (i.e. media coverage) 
  • Web analytics, downloads and altmetrics
  • Knowledge, attitude and behaviour impacts  
  • Environment (for example, you can assess if the policy debate on climate change has been influenced by your research)
  • Equity (such as reduced poverty rates)
  • Health (improvements in health care)

E. Practice:

  • Stakeholder Indicators (you can look at stakeholder perspectives, training and interactions)
  • Reach Indicators 
  • Program or Service delivery indicators (number of entities or individuals showing intended actions)
  • Requests from communities for researchers to advise on a problem 
  • Equity in the workplace (for example, people feel that there is transparent communication, different points of view are heard and incorporated)
  • Contributions to the wider community (all your events with the non-academic audiences)

F. Policy:

  • Requests for research (number of consultations/presentations, reports to policymakers/decision-makers, serving on panels, etc.)
  • Policy influence (changes in policies attributable to policy research, mentions by policymakers)

There are many more indicators in the taxonomy, and you can use them to describe the impact on the individual, institutional, national, or international level. However, always make sure you use a varied set of indicators – relying on one measure runs the risk of presenting a distorted assessment. 

This article is part of our initiative, R2A Impact Practitioners. To find out more, please click here.

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