In 1976, a German researcher linked sun bed use to skin cancer. In 2006, 30 years later, the Cooksey review of publicly funded health research stated that the UK was at risk of “failing to reap the full economic, health and social benefits of public investment in health research” due to health research not being adequately translated into health outcomes. At the same time, a 26 year old girl, Clare Oliver, was diagnosed with advanced melanoma and devoted her last three months to highlighting the dangers of the solarium industry, who she blamed for her melanoma. Clare’s personal media campaign triggered state and federal health ministers to regulate the solarium industry and restrict its use by people with melanoma-prone skin. By the time Clare had passed away, she had left behind a public health policy that had taken researchers over 30 years to achieve without her.
For health research, the societal benefits may be obvious, but assessing them is difficult. In 2014, a new evaluation framework, The Research Excellence Framework will use a measure of how research has influenced the social, political and economic lives of citizens in order to distribute almost £1.76 billion of public funding. Including this new criterion, however, raises questions about how evaluations of societal impact will be made and what aspects are evaluated favourably.
In Clare’s case, how do we reward the research involved? Identifying which research was most responsible is challenging because it is difficult to identify which research was the most influential. Was it the research that first linked solarium use and an increased risk of melanoma in 1976? Should it be Clare’s doctor, the author of the systematic review, the researcher that sat on the government committee, or the person who drafted the policy? The incorporation of a societal impact evaluation for the REF2014 provides a unique opportunity to investigate how the research evaluators handle this new impact criterion.
The large scale, mixed methods investigation employs a series of in depth, semi structured interviews with the REF2014 evaluators, bibliometric and network analysis and text analysis of EU and UK research policies via VOSviewer.
Funding Body: ESRC
Contact: Gemma Derrick