Looking for impact? Research funders encouraged to be more ‘DECISIVE’

PRiSM researchers from RAND Europe and the Policy Institute at King's College London offer eight lessons for funders about how biomedical research generates impact.

Drawing together key findings from a decade’s worth of studies that investigated the social and economic impacts of biomedical science, the lessons form a ‘DECISIVE’ approach to research funding:

D

Different skills: Fund researchers with more than just research skills - individuals are key when it comes to translation of research into wider impact

E

Engaged: Support your researchers to engage with non-academic stakeholders to help their work have a wider impact

C

Clinical: For greater impact on patient care within 10-20 years, fund clinical rather than basic research

I

Impact on society: To have wider impact, don’t just fund for academic excellence

S

Size: Recognise that bigger isn’t necessarily better when it comes to the size of a research grant

I

International: For high academic impact, fund researchers who collaborate internationally and support their efforts

V

Variety: Be aware that simple metrics will only capture some of the impact of your research

E

Expectations: Accept that the broadest social and economic impact will come from just a few projects

The lessons are derived from characteristics of research that delivered impacts both within and outside of academia. Some relate to principal investigators’ wider skills: their attitude and conviction, ability to work across boundaries and think strategically about impact. Others are more procedural: provide support for structured engagement activities with collaborators, policymakers and regulators, and promote international collaboration.

Academic excellence (as measured by bibliometrics) was by itself no more likely to lead to wider impacts than research with a low academic impact. In this and a number of other cases, the lessons run against what might be considered ‘norms’ of research funding. For example, funders should look at credentials other than just a principal investigator’s publication impact, and not expect substantial social and economic impacts from more than a minority of funded research projects.

Across three areas of biomedical research, clinical rather than basic research led to greater impacts over a 10-20 year time scale. Principal investigators conducting basic research were more likely to have impacts on patient care if their research was clinically motivated.

Not all of the factors in the DECISIVE approach are required for research to have an impact. Rather than use the lessons as an ‘impact recipe’, funders may wish to revisit their research strategies and decision-making processes, and consider how they might incorporate characteristics associated with wider impact.

Read the report (PDF)

Further reading

The DECISIVE approach summarises evidence from a body of research investigating the social and economic impacts of medical research. Findings are based on three studies spanning arthritis, cardiovascular and stroke, and mental health research. Together these studies form part of the ‘Project Retrosight’ series: a case study-based series of reviews estimating returns from medical health research from samples of research grants spanning the last 10-20 years.

Related Content

Projects

Mental Health Retrosight

Mental Health Retrosight

Mental Health Retrosight is about understanding how research translates into clinical application, with a focus on schizophrenia. How can funders and policymakers encourage the most efficient and effective use of research resources to quickly bring new treatments and cures to millions of sufferers?

More...

Publications

People

Jonathan Grant

Jonathan Grant

Jonathan Grant is Director of the King’s Policy Institute, King's College London, and Senior Honorary Research Fellow at RAND Europe. His main research interests are on health R&D policy, the use of research and evidence in policy making and population policy issues.

More...
Steven Wooding

Steven Wooding

Steven Wooding, PhD is a Senior Research Leader in the Innovation, Health and Science programme at RAND Europe and has worked extensively on the 'science of science' and the evaluation of biomedical research.

More...
Susan Guthrie

Susan Guthrie

Susan Guthrie is a Senior Analyst at RAND Europe. Her primary research interests are in the area of science and innovation policy, with a particular interest in evaluation, performance monitoring and research strategy.

More...
Alexandra Pollitt

Alexandra Pollitt

Alex Pollitt is a Research Fellow at the King's Policy Institute, King's College London with interests in research evaluation, mental health, and strategic planning.

More...