Thursday 07

Scientific evidence about ‘responsible research’

Posted by The International School on Research Impact Assessment on 07 Jul 2016

Let’s get scientific about RRI. Let us put into question if there is scientific evidence about the association between ‘responsible research’ (as defined by the 6 pillars) and social impact of research. The field of ‘science of science’ may have some answers to this. This discipline seeks scientific evidence on how science works to help policy makers optimise societal impact of research. The ground evidence is gathered from the number of research impact assessment studies that have been carried on in different countries (e.g. UK, Canada, Australia, Spain, Qatar, Denmark), at different levels (programme, discipline, geographic area), for different scientific domains (e.g. health sciences and biomedicine, energy and environmental sciences, social sciences) and using a mixed-methods approach depending on the final scope of the assessments. The methods usually adopted are combinations of quality research case studies, questionnaires, bibliometrics, data-mining and narrative review.

RRI defines a socially responsible way we should prune the science tree. Leaving apart innovation, there are sound fundaments to justify that research should be shaped in a more responsible way, granting ethical foundations, openness, social engagement, governance, science education and gender equity. Now, the question I propose in this post is whether there is scientific evidence that investing in responsible research will deliver more societal impacts.

So, what does evidence-based science policy says about this?

Evidence based research policy has reached a level of general consensus on a number of factors that promote science to have more societal impact. Among these, I want to underline in this blog one that is closely related to the concept of responsible research: this is public engagement. All the different assessment studies and revisions I know, from any country, any science and any assessment level conclude with no exception that engagement with decision makers at all levels enhances knowledge transfer, capacity building, empowerment, adoption, implementation and final societal impact. Be it at the early stages of generating a research question, be it at the stage of putting together a project, team or organisation, be it at the stage of research process and dissemination, engage with society is proved to be effective way to deliver social value of existing research.

Assessing the impact of research is the scientific way to understand how best to shape research, a way to be accountable to society about the investment in research and eventually a way to inform allocation of research moneys. From a practitioner point of view, there are nonetheless a number of challenges that need to be addressed such as how to engage stakeholders in your assessment, or how to communicate the results.

To learn more about research impact assessment from a practitioner point of view, go to The International School on Research Impact Assessment.

Paula Adam

Paula Adam works at the Agency for Health Quality and Assessment of Catalonia​ (AQuAS) for the ISOR group (social impact of research) and the International School on Research Impact Assessment.

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    • hilary

      13 of July of 2016 at 08:09 h

      Excellent, I agree. I would be interested to see this evidence presented in a format that scientists would be impressed by - do you have that? I am not sure what that would look like, % from the meta study, etc? Could you point me in the right direction? I am on email hilary at

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