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01.12.2016 | Review | Ausgabe 1/2016 Open Access

BMC Medicine 1/2016

Research impact: a narrative review

BMC Medicine > Ausgabe 1/2016
Trisha Greenhalgh, James Raftery, Steve Hanney, Matthew Glover
Wichtige Hinweise

Competing interests

TG was Deputy Chair of the 2014 Research Excellence Framework Main Panel A from 2012 to 2014, for which she received an honorarium for days worked (in common with all others on REF panels). SH received grants from various health research funding bodies to help develop and test the Payback Framework. JR is a member of the NIHR HTA Editorial Board, on paid secondment. He was principal investigator in a study funded by the NIHR HTA programme which reviewed methods for measuring the impact of the health research programmes and was director of the NIHR Evaluation, Trials and Studies Coordinating Centre to 2012. MG declares no conflict of interest.
All authors have completed the unified competing interest form at http://​www.​spp.​pt/​UserFiles/​file/​APP_​2015/​Declaracao_​ICMJE_​nao_​editavel.​pdf (available on request from the corresponding author) and declare (1) no financial support for the submitted work from anyone other than their employer; (2) no financial relationships with commercial entities that might have an interest in the submitted work; (3) no spouses, partners, or children with relationships with commercial entities that might have an interest in the submitted work; and (4) no non-financial interests that may be relevant to the submitted work.

Authors’ contributions

JR was principal investigator on the original systematic literature review and led the research and writing for the HTA report (see Acknowledgements), to which all authors contributed by bringing different areas of expertise to an interdisciplinary synthesis. TG wrote the initial draft of this paper and all co-authors contributed to its refinement. All authors have read and approved the final draft.


Impact occurs when research generates benefits (health, economic, cultural) in addition to building the academic knowledge base. Its mechanisms are complex and reflect the multiple ways in which knowledge is generated and utilised. Much progress has been made in measuring both the outcomes of research and the processes and activities through which these are achieved, though the measurement of impact is not without its critics. We review the strengths and limitations of six established approaches (Payback, Research Impact Framework, Canadian Academy of Health Sciences, monetisation, societal impact assessment, UK Research Excellence Framework) plus recently developed and largely untested ones (including metrics and electronic databases). We conclude that (1) different approaches to impact assessment are appropriate in different circumstances; (2) the most robust and sophisticated approaches are labour-intensive and not always feasible or affordable; (3) whilst most metrics tend to capture direct and proximate impacts, more indirect and diffuse elements of the research-impact link can and should be measured; and (4) research on research impact is a rapidly developing field with new methodologies on the horizon.
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