Research Impact

By the end of this module, you should be able to…

  • Be aware of how impact can be defined and how it can be measured for an individual researcher
  • Understand how Research Infrastructures can contribute to an individual  researcher’s impact
  • Know what you can do to contribute to the impact of an RI

What is research impact?

What is research impact?

Research impact can be defined as a recorded or otherwise demonstrable influence academic research has on other researchers or research organisations (academic impact) or on actors outside academia (external impact). (Based on: LSE Public Policy Group (2011) Maximizing the impacts of your research: a handbook for social scientists. Consultation Draft 3. Available at: http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/35758/1/Handbook_PDF_for_the_LSE_impact_blog_April_2011.pdf.)

Thinking about the outcomes of academic research that could have an influence on academia itself and beyond, publications like journal articles or monographs are only one side of the coin.
Virtually every kind of research goes hand-in-hand with the creation of new data. In the humanities, one can think of 3D scans of archaeological objects, digitized and meta-dated paintings or OCRed World War II journals. Especially in the humanities also often data are reused by adding new layers of interpretation.

In the past, a central location where these data could be stored, retrieved, and reused was far from a evident. This meant that research data were often used only in the research context for which they were generated, greatly restricting the impact (influence) the collected data could have. To unlock the full potential of research data and facilitate reuse, funding bodies do not only request, but demand research data to fulfill a role beyond the research for which they were conceived. Making data findable, accessible, interoperable, and reusable, results in the data becoming more impactful, as they can now be used by future researchers to answer new research questions.

For an illustrative example of how a RI can raise the impact of data, watch Arjan van Hessen’s statements in the video below (video 3: 2:10-4:54).



To learn more about Research Infrastructures and Data visit the PARTHENOS Training submodule “How can research infrastructure help researchers to adapt to shifting cultures of data” or browse the third link of our PARTHENOS resources below


How is research impact measured?

Researchers are likely to have to demonstrate for promotion and tenure that their work has an impact on others in their discipline as well as increasingly also on society at large.
Often quantifying methods are used to measure the success or “impact” of individual researchers. Many of the quantifying methods do not consider research data, but focus on publications (bibliometrics). However, other criteria such as the ability to secure third-party-funding are in place. Because of the strong focus of established bibliometric evaluation systems on articles and monographs, such as publication volume, publication prestige (publisher, Journal Impact Factor), citations (article level metrics), download statistics or the attention score in social media (altmetrics) in the past there are only few incentives for conducting open, reproducible research because alternative forms of research outcome (e.g. research data) were valued less. But the tide is changing and infrastructures are playing an important role in this process as they are promoting and facilitating alternative forms of publications (e.g. data publication, software publication) along with suitable metrics.
To gain a deeper understanding of established metrics for measuring impact, why they are not always suitable and which kind of changes are needed, watch the video below (statements from Toma Tasovac (DARIAH-RS), Steven Krauwer (CLARIN-ERIC) and Arjan van Hessen (CLARIAH)).


How can Research Infrastructures contribute to the research impact of researchers?

A Research Infrastructure offers a variety of opportunities for researchers to increase the impact of their work. By having research data included within the environment of a Research Infrastructure, a researcher can guarantee that his or her data are managed long-term, allowing them to keep being used and, therefore, to remain relevant. Apart from that, by adhering to the standards of a RI, the research data can also become interoperable with the data of other researchers. This enables researchers to – automatically – enrich each other’s data collections, as they now refer to one-another. As a result, researchers can draw conclusions based on a bigger collection of data, which improves the scope of the research or the trustworthiness of the conclusions. As soon as a researcher starts her project, she already stands on the shoulders of giants, reaping the benefits of the research data of her peers as well.

  • To gain a deeper understanding of what RIs can do to enhance individual researchers’ impact and what they cannot do, watch the videos of Dr. Arjan van Hessen and Toma Tasovac below.
  • To learn more about Research Infrastructures and Standards visit the PARTHENOS Training submodule “What are Standards?” (LINK) or browse the first two PARTHENOS resources mentioned below

Apart from being a digital infrastructure, a RI is – at its core – a network of people and knowledge. Being part of a RI allows researchers to collaborate, to challenge each other’s assumptions, to inspire one another and to share data and insights. An individual researcher can use such a platform as his soap box. Publications, newsletters and website announcements, conferences and workshops, training events, working groups and other on- and offline activities organised by RIs are only some opportunities for researchers to present and share their work or to find like-minded people to set up future collaborations.

  • For a deeper understanding of a Research Infrastructure as a “knowledge-network” watch the statements of Dr. Steven Krauwer and Toma Tasovac in the video below.


What can researchers do for Research Infrastructures

The relationship between the RI and researchers is a symbiotic one. While individual  researchers reap the benefits from being part of a RI, RIs themselves exist only by the grace of the researchers – their user base. Therefore, one of the most important factors proving the legitimacy and impact of a RI, is its active user base. Even if the content and services a RI has to offer are of the highest quality, the amount of users and nature of their use determines the RIs impact.

The experiences of users offer many opportunities for RI managers and developers for further improvement of the RI. They can indicate which tools work well and which don’t, they show which data helps in their research, and help identifying blind spots.

Apart from using existing features and information (e.g. services and data) of a RI, researchers can also actively contribute to them. These contributions can be made in numerous ways, from providing data to mouth-to-mouth-propaganda, as well as co-organising workshops with RIs.

As also research infrastructures increasingly have to prove their impact (see the submodule Introduction to the impact of RIs and its measurement) it is important to provide them with evidence to do so. After all, if something was helpful for your research, why not tell the whole world about it?

  • Find out what Dr. Steven Krauwer, Toma Tasovac and Dr. Arjan van Hessen think about the importance of giving credits in the videos below.

The topic of data citation and software citation and how to include references to RIs is quite new with several challenges to overcome as the current citation system was created for papers, articles, and books. There are several initiatives dedicated to this topic including members from RIs. A prominent international initiative is for example the FORCE11 Software Citation Implementation Group.