Evaluating Funder-led Research Impact Assessments

PhD study aims to understand how research funders perform impact assessments


Research impact assessments are becoming an increasingly common way for universities, research funders, and governments to demonstrate the impacts of research investments. Adoption among UK universities is high, with the advent of the REF, however, there is more limited information about uptake of research impact assessments at the funder-level among biomedical research funders. There are many frameworks for research impact assessment within the academic literature, and some high-level guidance about important principles to keep in mind when designing impact assessments. However, there is a considerable know-do gap between understanding the value of a research impact assessment and having the tools in place to conduct a high-quality and methodologically rigorous impact assessment of a funding portfolio.

This project is a PhD study designed to: 1) understand which funders are performing research impact assessments, how are they doing this, and how do we know it is working?; 2) perform a case-study impact assessment of an international, multi-funder portfolio of research grants focused on cancer survivorship; and 3) examine how well the impacts from the cancer survivorship grants portfolio align with the needs of James Lind Alliance patient priorities for individuals living with and beyond cancer.

Our Approach

Beginning in 2021, we conducted a literature review to understand which biomedical research funders have conducted research impact assessments of two or more research projects from 2014-2021. Gathering this portfolio of funder impact assessments then allowed us to examine more closely how funders were conducting their impact assessments, focusing on the frameworks, activities, and methods they used to identify and map impacts. We used this data to provide some recommendations about how funders could standardize the implementation of their research impact assessments, both in terms of how they conduct these assessments and how they describe their assessments in a resulting publication.

We will use this information to then perform a case-study impact assessment of an international, multi-funder portfolio of research grants focused on cancer survivorship. We will be trialing the implementation steps we developed in the first part of this work, as well as seeing how well big databases such as Dimensions and Overton work when performing the assessment.

Finally, we hope to explore a third aim of this research: how well do research impacts from cancer survivorship research lineup with stated patient priorities for this topic area, using the James Lind Alliances, top 26 research questions from patients living with and beyond cancer.

Outputs and findings

What funders are doing to assess the impact of their investments in health and biomedical research

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