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:
Different skills: Fund researchers with more than just research skills - individuals are key when it comes to translation of research into wider impact
Engaged: Support your researchers to engage with non-academic stakeholders to help their work have a wider impact
Clinical: For greater impact on patient care within 10-20 years, fund clinical rather than basic research
Impact on society: To have wider impact, don’t just fund for academic excellence
Size: Recognise that bigger isn’t necessarily better when it comes to the size of a research grant
International: For high academic impact, fund researchers who collaborate internationally and support their efforts
Variety: Be aware that simple metrics will only capture some of the impact of your research
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.
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.