How Open Research impacts global societal challenges

L
Librarians
By: Diana Petrowicz, Thu Oct 1 2020
Diana Petrowicz

Author: Diana Petrowicz

Open Research is changing the way that researchers communicate and collaborate and supports the pace and quality of discovery. This has led to the emergence of new and dynamic open research-driven workflows making it easier to find, access and reuse results. Distribution channels are changing too, enabling others, from patients to businesses, to teachers and policy makers, to increasingly benefit from new and critical insights. This in turn has dramatically increased the societal impact of open research. But what remains less clear is the exact nature and scope of this wider impact as well as the societal relevance of the underpinning research.

T_A77353_AD040_ecocities_270x153px


In order to tackle and begin to answer these key research questions, we formed a new strategic partnership in the form of a joint Impact Working Group (IWG) with the Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU), in December 2019.


We set out to investigate how researchers consider societal impact, through a survey undertaken in June 2019 with more than 9000 researchers. The first part of the survey explored how important it is for researchers that their paper has societal impact beyond academia. It found that societal impact is important to two thirds of global researchers (68%). However, there is one thing that is even more important to them which is being read by their peers. Certain communities view societal impact more important than others. The survey revealed that researchers from India are most likely to rate societal impact as “extremely” or “very” important (84%), followed by researchers in Central and South America (77%). Researchers responding from Japan, South Korea, Germany and France were the least likely to rate societal impact as important. Also, in areas such as social sciences and medicine, researchers were more inclined to rate societal impact as extremely important compared with other disciplines. These two disciplines were most likely to want to reach practitioners with their work (59% and 53% respectively). Physics, chemistry and engineering respondents were least likely to rate societal impact as important. 44% of respondents said their funder asks them “always” or “most of the time” to consider the social impact of their research when applying for a grant. 
 

How to increase societal impact?

The survey’s respondents gave a variety of activities to increase societal impact, with most respondents using three or four of these activities. More than half (58%) of respondents present their research at conferences to increase impact. 52% of respondents reported to promote their research globally on a scientific social network such as ResearchGate. Some researchers stated they were using social media to reach out to the wider audiences such as the general public and the media, while one researcher voiced concerns about the ability of majority reached by social media to understand and follow research papers adequately.

Researchers also voiced interest in increasing actions to measure societal impact. More than three quarters of surveyed researchers agreed that measuring social impact should be increased. Among the researchers that felt strongly about this point were mostly younger researchers working in medicine and social sciences from India. So what is keeping researchers from measuring societal impact of their work? Almost half of respondents (45%) said a lack of time was the reason, while another 43% mentioned lack of a comprehensive approach or methodology. This shows that there is still a demand for better measurement of research impact, which has already previously been found by the Leiden Manifesto and the Metric Tide report, undertaken in 2015. There is interest from both funder and researchers side for responsible metrics and better indicators, highlighting the need to include a combination of quantitative and qualitative measures for a long term view on impact. However, mapping out impact pathways for researchers working in SDGs can be quite challenging since some SDG goals are broad and interdisciplinary.

Our project with VSNU is taking on this challenge by creating relevancy mapping for content against the SDGs. This will help researchers to identify work relating to a specific SDG as well as identify how their work helps to tackle key global challenges beyond their own research community.


How open research impacts global societal challenges

Open research is changing the way that researchers communicate and collaborate and supports the pace and quality of discovery. This has led to the emergence of new and dynamic open research-driven workflows are emerging which are making it easier to find, access and reuse results. Distribution channels are changing too, enabling others, from patients to businesses, to teachers and policy makers, to increasingly benefit from new and critical insights. This in turn has dramatically increased the societal impact of open research. But what remains less clear is the exact nature and scope of this wider impact as well as the societal relevance of the underpinning research.

In order to tackle and begin to answer these key research questions, we formed a new strategic partnership in the form of a joint Impact Working Group (IWG) with the Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU), in December 2019.

We set out to investigate how researchers consider societal impact, through a survey undertaken in June 2019 with more than 9000 researchers. The first part of the survey explored how important it is for researchers that their paper has societal impact beyond academia. It found that societal impact is important to two thirds of global researchers (68%). However, there is one thing that is even more important to them which is being read by their peers. Certain communities view societal impact more important than others. The survey revealed that researchers from India are most likely to rate societal impact as “extremely” or “very” important (84%), followed by researchers in Central and South America (77%). Researchers responding from Japan, South Korea, Germany and France were the least likely to rate societal impact as important. Also, in areas such as social sciences and medicine, researchers were more inclined to rate societal impact as extremely important compared with other disciplines. These two disciplines were most likely to want to reach practitioners with their work (59% and 53% respectively). Physics, chemistry and engineering respondents were least likely to rate societal impact as important. 44% of respondents said their funder asks them “always” or “most of the time” to consider the social impact of their research when applying for a grant. 


What support do researchers receive to increase their societal impact?

Almost a quarter of surveyed researchers stated that they did not receive any support to increase the societal impact of their research. For those who reported that they did receive support, the sources of support came from part of their institution (43%) or from colleagues (42%). The support from institutions was reported to be primarily from the research office or communication department, while a third of the support was reported to come from their library. 18% said to get support from publishers and 14% of the support came from professional agencies, consultancies or services. When we look at the wider feedback from our survey, it’s clear that researchers would value more help, with time and lack of knowledge key barriers.

Below you can find the profiles of SDG researchers. Based on a survey of over 9000 researchers, this collection of infographics presents global researcher attitudes to societal impact. Click the profiles below to explore the findings related to each SDG. 

Explore the findings of the survey in further detail in these four blog posts about attitude and motivation, maximizing relevance, methods for tracking impact and support for researchers on our research blog The Source. 

Diana Petrowicz

Author: Diana Petrowicz

Diana Petrowicz is an Online Marketing Manager in the Institutional Marketing team, based in the London office. She manages 'The Link' blog, creates web content for the librarian webpage and produces the Library Link newsletter to keep the librarian community updated on trends and news.

Related Tags: