Research Impact Responsibilities: Policy Alternatives for Canada

MacGregor, S. (2019). Research impact responsibilities: Policy alternatives for Canada. Graduate Student Symposium, Selected Papers 2019.


How research evidence comes to have impacts in academic and nonacademic arenas is increasingly becoming a focal point in scholarly discourse across scholarly disciplines and jurisdictional boundaries. However, despite the growing recognition that research impact is a product of collaboration among a variety of research stakeholders, researchers remain saddled with the majority of impact responsibilities. The purpose of this policy analysis is to utilize the empirical research and contemporary politics concerning research impact to outline policy alternatives for how impact responsibilities can be reconceptualized in Canada. I begin the analysis with an overview of influential and thought-provoking research impact milestones related to legislation, research funding, and media coverage. I then outline several publication and evaluation milestones related to research impact, current system characteristics and impact constraints for social science research in Canada, and salient political viewpoints related to research impact for the relevant stakeholder groups. Four policy alternatives are presented: (1) to let present trends continue undisturbed (i.e., the status quo), (2) to provide inducements for the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada to establish a knowledge mobilization and research impact department, (3) to undertake regulatory action on all Canadian universities who receive the Research Support Fund, and (4) to establish multifaceted interventions for enhancing research impact. Each alternative is evaluated across five criteria: efficiency, political viability, operational feasibility, robustness and improvability, and equitable distribution of responsibilities. Based on this outcome analysis, I make a recommendation regarding the optimal policy alternative.

There is lots of research on research impact but most if focused at the level of the research project – how to make impact from your research. Less research is focused on impact policies – what drives impact from the perspective of the government, the funder or the institution. This graduate student presentation scopes out policy alternatives to support research impact for education research in Canada. The author uses education research as the example but makes the case that this can be generalized to social sciences and humanities research. I think his thinking can also be considered for most types of research outside of research with commercial potential as that is already supported by technology transfer (or equivalent) institutional efforts.

The literature review as background is worth reading since it is from a Canadian perspective while so much of the literature is dominated by REF/UK and European sources. Thanks for the shout out to Research Impact Canada “the leading authority on institutional KMb to achieve RI” (research impact).

He has four stakeholder groups in mind what assessing policy alternatives: researchers, practitioners, intermediaries, policy makers, funding agencies. In my opinion policy makers are a subset of practitioners since they are both presented in the context of research evidence users, but they have a unique role to play in that their effort can in turn influence RI. I also think he missed out institutions as a stakeholder group, especially since institutions are where some intermediaries sit and where research happens thus part of the RI process. They are also cited in one of the policy alternatives below.

The four policy alternatives are assessed against four elements: efficiency, political viability, operational feasibility, robustness and improvability. The four policy alternatives he presents are:

1.     Status quo: nothing changes;

2.     provide inducements for SSHRC to establish a knowledge mobilization and research impact department;

3.     require universities receiving Research Support Fund to establish RI supports; and,

4.     multifaceted interventions for enhancing research impact (a kind of bucket of other efforts that don’t fall into 1-3).

He recommends #2: that SSHRC undertake efforts to support RI in Canada. SSHRC already funds RI related work (KMb activities are eligible grant expenses) and supports knowledge syntheses related to Future Challenges. SSHRC requires a KMb plan and an outcomes statement for all grant applications. And SSHRC celebrates impact through the Impact Awards and the SSHRC Story Teller Awards. However, unlike the almost 50% of SSH funders in OECD and BRIC countries, SSHRC does not have a dedicated role or department supporting RI.

I think a strong policy alternative is #3. I wouldn’t “require” universities to support RI but to acknowledge they are already doing it for technology commercialization. Universities can more easily expand these activities to broader RI supports, like in Research Impact Canada member institutions, than can (or should) SSHRC direct funding away from research and training to an RI office.

Questions for brokers:

1.     Do you agree with his recommendation? Why?

2.     Does your research institution (or the one you attended) have an RI support function? If not, why not?

3.     Do you know if your institution (or the one you attended) is a member of Research Impact Canada?

Research Impact Canada (RIC) is producing this journal club series as a way to make evidence on KMb more accessible to knowledge brokers and to create on line discussion about research on knowledge mobilization. It is designed for knowledge brokers and other knowledge mobilization stakeholders. Read this open access article. Then come back to this post and join the journal club by posting your comments.