Speaking ahead of her visit, Professor Greenhalgh said her lecture – Measuring the impact of research: tensions, paradoxes and lessons from the UK – would deal with increasing pressure for academics to achieve ‘impact’, even though this term means different things to different people.
“Different ways of defining research impact drive different activities in higher education,” said Professor Greenhalgh.
“If we define impact in terms of publishing in high-status academic journals, that’s all most academics will do. But we could define impact more broadly – in terms of research that changes policy (or, indeed, affirms existing policy by strengthening the underpinning evidence base), or research that contributes to a better society – for example by promoting public debate, enabling better use of societal resources or contributing to sustainability of the planet.”
Lessons from the United Kingdom
Professor Greenhalgh’s lecture will draw on her extensive experience at the forefront of increasing the use of knowledge in healthcare policy and practice in the United Kingdom. Policy frameworks such as the Research Excellence Framework (REF) and increased collaboration between researchers, policymakers and practitioners have seen co-developed and collaboratively conducted research becoming more commonplace in the UK.
First introduced in 2014, the REF is the UK’s system for assessing the quality of research in higher education institutions.
“A huge strength is that (with the REF) there is both a ‘carrot’ and a ‘stick’ to incentivise impact-related activity by academics. In the UK, researchers are now following through on their research activity to try to drive their work into practice and policy. They are writing lay versions of their findings in plain English, spending time talking to policymakers, and adapting their recommendations so that they are workable in clinical practice,” Professor Greenhalgh said.
Of course, the REF is not a panacea for all problems and like any framework, there are challenges to be addressed. “One weakness is that short-term, easily measurable impacts are much easier to document, so some of the long-game work may sometimes get overlooked. An obvious example is that it’s easier to change a paragraph in a guideline than ensure that the guideline is actually followed.”