Measuring research impact in Australia’s medical research institutes: a scoping literature review of the objectives for and an assessment of the capabilities of research impact assessment frameworks
Realising the economic potential of research institutions, including medical research institutes, represents a policy imperative for many Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development nations. The assessment of research impact has consequently drawn increasing attention. Research impact assessment frameworks (RIAFs) provide a structure to assess research translation, but minimal research has examined whether alternative RIAFs realise the intended policy outcomes. This paper examines the objectives presented for RIAFs in light of economic imperatives to justify ongoing support for health and medical research investment, leverage productivity via commercialisation and outcome-efficiency gains in health systems, and ensure that translation and impact considerations are embedded into the research process. This paper sought to list the stated objectives for RIAFs, to identify existing frameworks and to evaluate whether the identified frameworks possessed the capabilities necessary to address the specified objectives.A scoping review of the literature to identify objectives specified for RIAFs, inform upon descriptive criteria for each objective and identify existing RIAFs. Criteria were derived for each objective. The capability for the existing RIAFs to realise the alternative objectives was evaluated based upon these criteria.The collated objectives for RIAFs included accountability (top-down), transparency/accountability (bottom-up), advocacy, steering, value for money, management/learning and feedback/allocation, prospective orientation, and speed of translation. Of the 25 RIAFs identified, most satisfied objectives such as accountability and advocacy, which are largely sufficient for the first economic imperative to justify research investment. The frameworks primarily designed to optimise the speed of translation or enable the prospective orientation of research possessed qualities most likely to optimise the productive outcomes from research. However, the results show that few frameworks met the criteria for these objectives.It is imperative that the objective(s) for an assessment framework are explicit and that RIAFs are designed to realise these objectives. If the objectives include the capability to pro-actively drive productive research impacts, the potential for prospective orientation and a focus upon the speed of translation merits prioritisation. Frameworks designed to optimise research translation and impact, rather than simply assess impact, offer greater promise to contribute to the economic imperatives compelling their implementation.