An OU researcher has led the review of the relatively new research impact requirement in a new Science and Technology Funding Council (STFC) review published this month (October 2018).
The Open University’s Academic Lead for Engaged Research, Professor Richard Holliman, led the review, Pathways to Excellence in Public Engagement (PEPE), on behalf of STFC and questioned whether the peer review system that underpins the relatively new impact requirement for publicly-funded research consistently identifies and supports excellence.
The review draws on evidence from: a review of planning documents, alongside impact data submitted to Researchfish; and analysis of the views of the STFC community with respect to the planning, assessment, monitoring and reporting of Pathways to Impact Planning.
The ‘impact agenda’ has been part of the UK’s research landscape for a little over eight years. Whilst the review explored the work of STFC researchers, Professor Holliman argues that the findings of the review have implications for researchers working in all domains.
“We have found that, to some degree, all aspects of Pathways to Impact – planning, assessment, monitoring and reporting – are struggling to consistently deliver rigorous, well-resourced programmes of impact-generating activity,” said Professor Holliman. “Given the challenges identified in the PEPE Report it is also important to note, therefore, that each of these issues can be resolved. To this, end, we have engaged with representatives from the STFC Community to identify recommendations and draft an action plan to improve the peer review system that underpins pathways to impact.”
A series of recommendations and an action plan were developed with representatives from the STFC community. In particular, they highlight that comprehensive, upstream, tailored planning needs to become an essential requirement for all funded Pathways to Impact Plans. To achieve this goal, clear and consistent advice and guidance for researchers is required to improve the planning phase. In turn, this needs to be matched by a rigorous, consistent and transparent process of assessment and feedback for successful and unsuccessful applications. To make this work, assessment panels require routine access to relevant expertise to make high-quality assessments and offer constructive feedback.
The report concludes by arguing that the focus for change should fall on improving the planning and assessment phases of Pathways to Impact Planning. Addressing these aspects is essential to ensure that the ensuing monitoring and reporting phases will also be improved in the future.
If the Planning and Assessment phases can be improved, researchers will gain confidence that they need to ‘up their game’ to ensure that stakeholders, end-users and members of the public can engage with relevant aspects of research in ways that are meaningful to them.