Strategies for building and assessing the long-term impact of research projects: closing plenary at #QQML2016

Today I am at Senate House in London as an invited speaker at the 8th International Conference on Qualitative and Quantitative Methods in Libraries. The conference has a packed programme of over 150 contributions. It started on Tuesday morning and ends with my presentation. Entitled What happens next? Strategies for building and assessing the long-term impact of research projects, the presentation covers four main themes:

  1. Impact and research in general, and the relationship between public engagement QQML2016 bannerand impact
  2. Impact as a concept in Library and Information Science (LIS) research and practice
  3. Strategies for building the long-term impact of LIS research projects, with close reference to the findings of the Research in Librarianship Impact Evaluation Studies (RiLIES) completed by the Centre for Social Informatics in 2011/12
  4. Means of assessing the long-term impact of research projects withe reference to DREaM Again – a case study completed in 2015 to trace the impact of an element of the Developing Research Excellence and Methods (DREaM) project, which was completed in summer 2012.

Below I summarise the content of the presentation with reference. The slides can also be found in this post (and on SlideShare).

1. Impact and research in general, and the relationship between public engagement and impact

The impact of research and its measurement is an important research topic, particularly at a time when value for money in public spending is paramount. Indeed in some geographies, such as the UK and Australia, consideration of impact has become routine in the process of developing research proposals. Here it is expected that the benefits of the proposed research to the economy, society, culture, public policy or services, health, the environment or aspects of quality of life (for example transport) beyond academia are considered in the context of research project goals. This puts an onus on researchers to identify the means of maximising the potential research impact of their work even before funding is granted.

Similarly measures of impact are assessed as part of national research assessment exercises, such as the Research Excellence Framework (REF) in the UK: for the first time in REF2014 impact was considered one of the main elements for assessment (alongside research outputs and the research environment). LIS researchers have already investigated the impact of the impact studies submitted to REF2014, as can be seen in a paper recently published in the Journal of Information Science by colleagues at Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen:

Marcella, R., Lockerbie, H. & Bloice, L. (2016). Beyond REF2014: the impact of impact assessment on the future of information research. Journal of Information Science 42(3), 369-385.

It is also worth noting here that public engagement is not the same as impact, although there is a relationship between the two when public engagement around a piece of research leads to impact. So, for example, if a researcher gives a presentation on her work on the paucity of women in science with an aim of attracting more women into the field, the act of giving the presentation does not count as impact. She, instead, will be looking to an increase in the number of women who elect to follow careers in science.

2. Impact as a concept in Library and Information Science (LIS) research and practice

Librarians and information scientists have been interested in impact for some time, traditionally in terms of services value. They commonly seek evidence to establish that the services that they deliver have value in general, and conduct studies to discover whether particular needs are met. Less usual are studies into the wider impact of the services that they offer. However, examples can be found such as the work led by the University of Hudderfield on the link between library activity and student attainment.

In LIS impact is also regarded as a theme of study (as illustrated by the paper by Marcella et al cited above). So, for example, we find literature on how to measure the impact of library services, and how to assess the (academic) impact of research output across a range of domains through bibliometrics. There is also a limited amount work on the links between academic research in LIS and the actual practice of librarians and information scientists, but this is perhaps not as common as in other domains such as nursing, policing, psychology, social work, and teaching.

3. Strategies for building the long-term impact of LIS research projects, with close reference to the findings of the Research in Librarianship Impact Evaluation Studies

In 2011 staff within the Centre for Social Informatics at Edinburgh Napier University  completed the first of two Research in Librarianship Impact Evaluation Studies (RilIES). On the basis of a literature review, a practitioner poll, case studies of five ‘impactful’ LIS research projects, three focus groups (public librarians, academic librarians, and healthcare librarians) and a validation survey, we established that for a project to enjoy impact researchers need to pay attention to the following:

  • Attracting high-level support for wide buy-in to the work
  • Establishing a sector-specific focus to ensure its relevance
  • The participation of practitioners in project design and implementation to raise the chances of their following its progress and maintaining their interest in the research results
  • A dissemination strategy that takes into account practitioner preferences for consuming research output that is presented in an accessible way so that they are able to use the outputs in practice

Other findings from RiLIES highlighted the importance of employers and professional bodies in encouraging practitioners to engage with research.

In 2012 we created a number of LIS research impact resources to help support LIS researchers – in particular those who also work as practitioners. There are available from the RiLIES page on the LIS Research Coalition web site.

4. Means of assessing the long-term impact of research projects withe reference to DREaM Again – a case study completed in 2015 to trace the impact of an element of the Developing Research Excellence and Methods (DREaM) project, which was completed in summer 2012.

The findings of RiLIES (as descrbed above) influenced the Centre for Social Informatics’ delivery of the AHRC-funded Developing Research Excellence and Methods (DREaM) project in 2011/12. The goal of this project was to develop a UK-wide network of library and information science researchers through the delivery of five events: a launch conference, three linked workshops, and a concluding conference.

Senate House

Senate House: the venue for QQML2016

A follow-up study entitled DREaM Again presented an opportunity to measure the impact of DREaM three years after it ended. Thirty-two of the thirty-five DREaM participants (the cadre) who attended all three of the research methods workshops (the core of the DREaM event series) completed surveys and contributed to focus groups in London and Edinburgh in summer 2015.

This work allowed us to extend the initial impact work that we completed at the end of the series of research methods workshops in 2012, which had shown a growth in knowledge and expertise in research skills amongst the cadre (the details of which were presented at QQML2012).

We were also keen to verify anecdotal evidence of the impact of DREaM, particularly in cases where there were physical artefacts of members of the network working together such as the textbook Research evaluation and audit in 2013, and the joint delivery of events.

The findings of this study revealed that since completing the programme the participants had:

  1. Innovated in the workplace – for example, they had used techniques from the workshops in practice, or had felt knowledgeable enough to converse about these techniques with others
  2. Collectively deployed the techniques across a range of settings, having produced outputs that had informed policy, determined services provision, and developed the LIS research agenda (50%), and the majority had communicated their research in outlets that ranged from presentations internal to their own organisations to international peer-reviewed journals
  3. Completed research that had a visible impact on practice – for example one explained how research completed had led to changes to the physical layout of the library in which she worked, and another highlighted how her work had brought public library practitioners into debates around information literacy
  4. Taken advantage of new research opportunities that had opened up due to their network membership
  5. Continued to work together as a loose, but persistent, network – it is also worth noting that those with more network ties had also been the most productive since 2012

Other impacts of the DREaM project were also noted in the study, such as the academic impact of the work disseminated by the cadre members, and uptake of the methods used in the delivery of the DREaM project events.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s