Measuring Research, Making a Difference
The National Institute for Health Research provides the health research system that supports clinical and translational research in the NHS. NIHR funds research projects and research faculty as well as providing the infrastructure and systems required to monitor, support and optimize the systems that turn research outcomes into changes in clinical practice. David Kryl is Head of Business Intelligence for NIHR.
Research within the NHS is focused on improving health outcomes in England, which creates a tighter focus on monitoring the real usage of research outputs in the form of downstream changes in clinical practice. This can pose many challenges including the common problem that the trail that marks the path from research finding to change in practice is often neither direct, nor easy to track. Traditional citation mapping approaches don’t work where citation, or at least easily trackable citation is not traditional.
Further, the contribution of a single piece of research to clinical practice can be difficult or impossible to determine. Research is filtered through comprehensive reviews, the deliberation of expert panels preparing guidance, and local conventions and regulation before becoming practice. In this space the common assumption that correct attribution of influences will provide sufficient connection to track impact can break down. As David says, the key here is to allow the reporting and encourage the acknowledgement of contribution rather than requiring attribution as evidence.
As elsewhere in the research community, the challenge of changing research practice is significant. David is looking at the effectiveness of “nudging” through the careful selection of questions in reporting schemes; “have you considered comprehensive reviews?” helps to send the message that good research practice involves thorough field reviews to reduce the risk of repeating the same studies. In addition, a strong focus on “record once-use many” aims to reduce the reporting burden. The challenge of common reporting standards and reducing the burden on researchers, institutions, and funder IT departments, has been a common thread in many of the discussions leading up to the workshop.
The monitoring and optimization of applied and translational research has its own unique issues but in its need to track downstream use of research to measure impact, NIHR is tackling many of the same challenges faced by both academic funders and researchers in gathering high quality evidence of the downstream effect of their research.