Putting research impact information to good use

Health professionals gather around talking in their workplace.

With two weeks until the Researchfish submission deadline, why we need researchers to share their research impacts and how we put this information to good use.

It’s that time of year when we ask all research council funded researchers to update their Researchfish® entries. The outcomes reporting submission period is until 17 March.

Funders rely on feedback from the researchers they support to explain the benefits of research.

We have collected feedback from the Medical Research Council (MRC) research community using an online system (currently Researchfish) for more than 10 years. For around half of the MRC portfolio the only reporting requirement is to highlight:

  • the outputs
  • the outcomes
  • and eventually the impact of this work via the Researchfish system.

Diversity of research outcomes

Researchfish was designed to capture brief structured feedback across a wide range of activities during the lifetime of funding, and for a few years after. Activities include:

  • public and patient engagement
  • development of new products
  • and policy work.

Over the last 10 years we have gathered:

  • records of 117,000 papers
  • details of 22,600 collaborations
  • more than £14.3 billion of further funding
  • and descriptions of over 10,100 research materials shared with others.

Having agreed a common format for these activities (PDF, 157KB), over 100 organisations are now using the same approach to capture feedback, rather than each introducing a different system.

Putting the information to good use

We use the results:

  • to answer questions from central government and the public
  • in UK Research and Innovation (UKRI)-wide performance monitoring
  • to account for our funding
  • in UKRI’s submission to spending reviews.

It’s an incredibly valuable finding aid for impact case studies and for evaluations such as our report on 10 years of MRC translational research.

This is helping us shape the case for, and design of, future funding mechanisms to ensure the UK remains at the forefront of translating discoveries into products with global impact.

And our recent COVID-19 response report showed how MRC-funded researchers provided global leadership and world leading research in clinical trials, health data management, vaccine development and genome sequencing throughout 2020.

Access information on research studies

All the information submitted to us is published via the openly accessible UKRI Gateway to Research. This provides descriptions of how the projects we’ve funded are progressing.

I would encourage researchers to see how your projects are publicly displayed, and whether this provides a current and good account of your work.

External studies on UKRI research regularly draw on this data and it’s a great way for anyone to access up-to-date information on research studies.

Making it simpler and better for all

Every year we’ve made improvements to the way that we collect outputs. This year there are changes that restrict some sections about impact, so that they only need filling out from the final year of the award onwards.

Meanwhile, the automatic harvesting of outputs by the system has increased substantially, meaning fewer manual data entries for researchers.

Researchfish has integrated with thousands of international data sources including one of the earliest integrations with the Open Researcher and Contributor Identifier in 2015. It harvests outputs with persistent identifiers from repositories such as GitHub or DataCite.

Around 20 universities transfer information from their systems to Researchfish so that it can be re-used, without researchers having to re-enter it. In 2021 42% of publications attributed to UKRI awards were harvested in a completely automatic process. A further 46% could be looked up within the system and details easily imported.

While this progress is impressive, it is a top priority for UKRI to ensure that our monitoring and evaluation processes are simpler and better for all. We will continue to carefully review our requirements for output data and the processes we use to collect it.

Making the best use of your time

We understand that as researchers you have a limited-time budget, so we do want you to be selective in what you report. You don’t necessarily need to complete every section, only those where you’ve produced significant outputs.

Our UKRI-wide guidance on how to use Researchfish can help. We also recommend that you reserve some time to review the accuracy and status of outputs already entered.

Although we’re now in the last two weeks of the submission period, it’s important to note that Researchfish is open all year round. Some teams enter information at another point in the year, avoiding the need to rush to enter their data before the deadline.

Lastly, we would like to thank those of you preparing information for the submission period. This information has been vital to the case that MRC has made for health funding over the last 10 years and we look forward to reading your latest impacts.

Find out more

Hints and tips on making your UKRI Researchfish submission.

Examples of UKRI evaluations and reports that have used output data.

Check out how your outputs are publicly displayed at UKRI Gateway to Research.

Examples of other organisations using the same approach to capture feedback:

Top image:  Credit: SolStock, Getty Images

This is the integrated website of the seven research councils, Research England and Innovate UK.
Let us know if you have feedback or would like to help us test new developments.