Australia prepares for (research) impact

Consultation to consider use of metrics and case studies in research assessment

June 22, 2013

The Australian government has launched a consultation on the introduction of a national programme of research impact assessment.

The proposals, which follow the controversial adoption of measures of impact in the UK, could involve the use of both metrics and case studies.

Unlike the UK’s research excellence framework, Australia’s research assessment programme, known as Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA), does not include an impact element.

However, the country’s government wants more evidence and promotion of the social, economic and environmental benefits of its annual A$9 billion (£5.4 billion) research spend.

Last year two Australian mission groups, including the prestigious Group of Eight, trialed an approach to impact assessment, known as Excellence in Innovation for Australia, which, like the REF, relies on case studies.

However, the consultation document, produced by the Australian Research Council and the Department of Industry, Innovation, Climate Change, Science, Research and Tertiary Education, notes that although case studies can be valuable, they only pick up on historic impact.

It suggests that the Australian exercise, which would be separate from but synchronised with ERA, might also - or alternatively - assess the likelihood of future impact.

It would do this by drawing on indicators of “behaviours, activities and characteristics of the research and innovation system that are associated with subsequent benefit”.

The document suggests that measures of collaboration with business and other universities could “make useful indicators of research engagement”.

It adds that Australia’s graduate destinations survey could “illuminate the transfer of research-derived knowledge from universities to industry through these graduates”.

The document also proposes to draw on impact-related information already collected for ERA, such as income from the commercialization of research, numbers of patents and professional and applied research publications.

At least 70 per cent of the assessment panels would be made up of research users, under the proposed system, in order to “provide assurance that the research being reported on was considered beneficial by relevant stakeholders…outside of academia”.

The consultation closes on 16 August, with a pilot exercise due to be run next year.

paul.jump@tsleduction.com

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