It’s all about the Impact, not just Publications and Citations. Sir Mark Walport Speaks

July 13, 2017


Last week Professor Sir Mark Walport, Chief Executive of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) outlined his vision and objectives for UKRI in a joint speech with David Carradine, president-elect of the British Academy and Jo Johnson MP, Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation. UK Research & Innovation will be formed in April 2018, bringing together the research councils, Innovate UK and a new body, Research England. David started off by noting how great the UK is at research, which is true, we are.


As David said “The UK research culture punches above our weight, the UK boasts less than 1% of the world’s population, and only 3.2% of global spending on research and development, but 16% of the world’s most highly cited research papers are produced here in Britain.”


All good, but in the back of my mind I couldn’t help but think there was something missing. It’s not just about numbers of publications and citations! These are useful but they don’t demonstrate the actual value and impact of the research within them, there is so much more. The speech (it’s here if you want to hear it). I wait with anticipation for Sir Mark. 


Sir Mark begin by outlining why the formation of UKRI is both timely and necessary, focussing on how the changing world is producing new ‘grand challenges’ for society to face and overcome, such as the increasing and aging population, infectious diseases and environmental challenges such as pollution of the oceans and air quality. He went on to say how the answers lie in the fantastic resources and tools now available globally, and the continually increasing need for collaboration across disciplines to support addressing some of the research questions. UKRI will bring together the UK’s existing strengths in managing and guiding research and innovation across all disciplines and both sides of the dual support system into one organisation, to put the UK in the best position to face these challenges together. The organisation's ambition is to be the best research and innovation agency in the world.


Sir Mark went on to explain that the success of UKRI will ultimately be measured through the impact it delivers; through pushing the frontiers of human knowledge, delivering economic impact and creating better jobs and by supporting society to become stronger, healthier and more resilient.


I am of course very glad he talked about impact, as this is my area of specialism. The importance of the impact of research has come more and more to the forefront of the minds of researcher, research organisation and funders alike in recent years. The REF helped to start this with the inclusion of impact in REF 2014 and will be continuing this in REF 2021 (although with potentially slightly different parameters around impact which we have yet to learn about), and funders are increasingly needing to track and demonstrate the impact of the funding they support. Sir Mark has cemented this further for the Research Councils/UKRI with his commitment that the value of UKRI will be demonstrated through the impact of the research.


Impact is here to stay and we all need to get better at making sure we have an evidence base to use to track and better understand the impact of the research being funded, as well as the capability to be able to use that evidence base and the words to explain it. These are all the sorts of things that I have experience in and help organisations with, so we have interesting times ahead of us with preparation for REF2021 and continuing to fulfil the needs of both research funding and research performing organisations to track and demonstrate their impact. I’m showing my geeky side now but this excites me, - I truly believe in the importance of research, our strengths in the UK and its place in our future.


My enthusiasm is now getting the better of me – I have more to discuss on Career Tracking and the forthcoming Rutherford Fund. I’m writing my next blog post on these as we speak.

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