A study commissioned by Australian Research Data Commons (ARDC) has found that researchers provide value to the Australian public through the use of data, by enabling improvements in professional practice, influencing government policy and, to a lesser extent, by creating economically profitable products and services.
The study, which focused on Australian research case studies, also found that researchers play a key role in linking data with beneficial outcomes through activities such as presenting and interpreting data in a report or providing data-driven suggestions for improvements.
This work was supported by an advisory group with representatives from the Australian Research Council, the National Health and Medical Research Council, CSIRO and the Australian Data Archive.
In 2020, the Australian Research Data Commons (ARDC) commissioned a project, “Investigating the Link Between Research Data and Impact – Phase II,” to investigate and identify patterns of how research data leads to non-academic impact, including social, economic, environmental and cultural impact and health benefits. The project used 246 Australian case studies from the Australian Research Council’s (ARC) Engagement and Impact Assessment 2018. It focused on data-intense cases and using content analysis, looked for patterns that linked research data and impact. The research data was mainly generated by organisations that regularly perform research, such as universities.
The project expanded research commissioned in 2019 (Phase I) that looked at case studies from the UK Research Excellence Framework. The new study suggested that greater impact could be achieved through closer links and capacity building in order to generate better connections between researchers, government and industry. It also noted “that the findings from the Australian Engagement and Impact 2018 case studies are broadly similar to the UK impact case study findings from Phase I of this work.”
Phase II sought to identify the impact of research outside academia. Research data was found to deliver positive results in professional practice (44%), government (20%), economics (14%) and public health (8%). The study identified contributing pathways to impacts, including the development of improved institutional processes/methods (33%), reports (25%) and analytical or methods (12%).
The study found that research data rarely generated positive benefits on their own. The authors noted that “data need to be processed and conclusions or other value need to be drawn from them so that they can yield non-academic impacts.”
The study also aimed to identify the beneficiaries of research impact. It found that government, policy or policymakers (28%), industry or business (21%) and specific public groups, such as hospital patients (16%), received the most benefits.