In March 2022 a number of people raised concerns about tweets posted by Researchfish, owned by Interfolio and we have been establishing the facts behind these.
Following some abusive tweets in 2018, UKRI and Researchfish staff discussed sharing abusive, threatening or offensive tweets so that UKRI could suggest the senders reconsider their language. This was intended to protect colleagues who were impacted by abuse. At no point was this ever intended, or used, to affect current or future grants from UKRI.
How many people were impacted?
Our searches have identified six incidents of tweets being flagged to UKRI over four years. In three of those UKRI contacted either the host university or the individual directly. In two cases the individuals deleted their tweets and in the third, no response was received and no further action was taken. In the other three cases, UKRI took no action.
The tweets were not used in connection with any other processes in UKRI.
We were wrong
We have stopped this approach with immediate effect and recognise that it was the wrong thing to do. We understand that this has raised questions around personal data. We take data protection very seriously. Our assessment of the data protection considerations is ongoing and is expected to be concluded shortly.
We have discussed with Researchfish that any tweets of concern to them can be dealt with through the mechanisms provided by the platform, such as the Twitter reporting function.
We apologise for our approach and actions on this issue, and the concern this has caused. We believe that all staff have the right to work free from abuse, bullying or threat. We recognise the right of people to criticise an organisation or system without fear of reprisal.
Collecting data about research impacts is important for us to demonstrate the outcomes from the work we fund, and we make significant use of this data. We are exploring the most effective ways for us to gather this data in the future.
At present, Interfolio Inc supplies and supports the Researchfish system for us and we will continue discussions with them to ensure that interactions with the research community are of a high standard and adhere to good practice.
How do we use Researchfish data?
Data and evidence, including Researchfish data, help us achieve our objectives by learning what works and informing our investment and policy decisions, and by demonstrating the rationale for further investment and demonstrating our impact to stakeholders.
Researchfish data are used across UKRI to understand the research outputs, outcomes and impacts we are helping to deliver. For example, from the data we know that:
- UKRI-funded researchers are collaborating widely within the UK and internationally. For example, awards starting from 2016 to 2020 have reported 23,714 new collaborations across 176 countries [source: UKRI Annual Report and Accounts]
- UKRI-funded researchers engage with a wide variety of audiences and stakeholders to communicate research outcomes, disseminate knowledge, stimulate public awareness, and encourage public engagement and dialogue. For example, approximately two thirds of awards report carrying out engagement activities. [source: Researchfish dashboard]
- UKRI-funded research is being translated and commercialised to deliver wider benefit to the UK. For example, 3% of awards report an outcome of a new instance of intellectual property [source: UKRI Annual Report and Accounts]
- UKRI-funded research is generating exciting new ideas that are leading to further investment in research and innovation. For example, 50% of awards go on to attract further funding, with funding received from 81 countries [source: ARA].
The data are also used extensively within evaluations to understand the overall outcomes from a programme and how successful it has been at achieving its aims and objectives.
For example, Researchfish data are being used within the multi-year evaluation of UKRI’s investments in the National Productivity Investment Funds to understand the impact of these funds on multidisciplinarity, or the types of collaboration the funds are leading to.
Within the MRC evaluation of translational research, Researchfish data were used to understand how outcomes (eg further funding, spin-outs, licensing agreements) differ between a specific portfolio of translational research, other translational research funding by MRC and broader MRC grants.
The data are also used to develop case studies, illustrating the impact of research locally, nationally and internationally, and are published on Gateway to Research, so that anyone can see and understand the outcomes from research.