Impact Seminar Series

A landscape without pathways: where next for research impact?

14 Oct 2020, 13.30-15.30

Professor James Wilsdon
Digital Science Professor of Research Policy, University of Sheffield

Click here to register for the seminar



Over the past fifteen years, efforts to incentivise, measure and reward the economic and societal impacts of research have risen steadily up the agenda of funding systems worldwide. Countries like the UK, Netherlands and Australia have developed specific evaluation frameworks, and many funders now require applicants to specify potential impacts of their research. The next EU framework programme, Horizon Europe, is expected to include a stronger emphasis on impact across its funding pillars. And new platforms and metrics to capture and quantify our impacts continue to proliferate, often relying on social media presence as a proxy for wider engagement.

The impact agenda has always had its critics. But its move into the mainstream has been accompanied by a growing undercurrent of disquiet about what forms of impact are being valued, and what is being missed, and whether the administrative burden of impact management is becoming a barrier to its substance. The latter concern lies behind the UK’s decision earlier this year to axe the inclusion of separate “pathways to impact” in grant applications, as part of a wider review of research bureaucracy.

The Covid-19 crisis has further focused political and public attention on how research can be targeted towards pressing health, economic and social needs. As we look towards a post-pandemic landscape, with renewed pressures on public investment in research, how will the impact agenda evolve? Can we identify lessons from institutions who are managing impact most effectively? And what are the prospects for a more mature science and art of impact measurement? Drawing on recent work by the Research on Research Institute (RoRI), James Wilsdon will explore where impact goes next, and what this might mean for researchers, managers and funders


About James Wilsdon

James is Digital Science Professor of Research Policy at the University of Sheffield and Director of the Research on Research Institute (RoRI), a global consortium of research funders, academics and technologists working to advance transformative & translational ‘meta-research'. He is also vice-chair of the International Network for Government Science Advice (INGSA). An interdisciplinary social scientist, he works on the politics, governance and management of research systems, and the relationship between evidence and decision-making. Over his 25-year career, in addition to posts at the universities of Sheffield, Sussex and Lancaster, he has worked in think tanks and as director of science policy for the Royal Society, the UK’s national academy of science. His recent publications include (with Richard Jones) The Biomedical Bubble (Nesta 2018). Previously, he chaired the UK’s Campaign for Social Science, and led an independent review of the role of metrics in research, published in 2015 as The Metric Tide. He is a Fellow of the UK’s Academy of Social Sciences, serves on the editorial board of the OA journal Humanities and Social Sciences Communications, and is on twitter @jameswilsdon.


 James Wilsdon