Published October 24, 2019 | Version 1.2
Report Open

Investigating the Link Between Research Data and Impact

  • 1. Institute for Methods Innovation
  • 2. Fast Track Impact


The Institute for Methods Innovation – a research charity registered in the United States and United Kingdom – was commissioned by the Australian Research Data Commons (ARDC) to investigate how research data contributes to non-academic impacts, drawing on existing impact case studies from the UK Research Excellence Framework.

Project overview
The research involved analysing impact cases from the UK’s Research Excellence Framework (REF). These cases were sifted to only review high scoring cases with a strong emphasis on ‘data’. Relevant text to this research was extracted from the larger impact narratives. A content analysis was conducted to identify patterns, linking research data and impact in the narratives. This analysis achieved a high level of reliability, based on established methodological standards.

What type of impact was developed from research data?
The most prevalent type of research data-driven impact related to Practice (45%). This category of impact includes changing the ways that professionals operate, changing organizational culture and improving workplace productivity or outcomes. It also includes improving the quality of products or services through better methods, technology, understanding of the problems, etc.

Government impacts were the next most prevalent category identified in this research (21%). This category includes reducing the cost to deliver government services, enhancing the effectiveness or efficiency of government services and operations and providing input into government planning, decision-making and policymaking.

Other relatively common types of research data-driven impacts were Economic impact (13%) and General Public Awareness impacts (10%).

How was impact developed from research data?
Impact from research data was developed most frequently through Improved Institutional Processes / Methods (40%). This relates to making an institution’s way of operating better, more efficient or effective at delivering outcomes. The second most common way of developing impact was via a report (32%) of some kind, that is, pre-analysed or curated information. Analytic Software or Methods (26%) comprised the third most frequently used way of developing impact. Here, research data are used to generate or refine software or research and analytic methods.

Who benefited from the research data-linked impact?
Professionals (50%), Government, Policy, or Policymakers (42%) and Industry / Business (38%) were the most common types of beneficiaries from the research data-linked impact. This finding is partly explained by a two-step flow of research data-linked impact that ultimately reaches publics or wider non-academic stakeholders. While intermediaries such as professionals, policymakers and industry are primary beneficiaries or users of the research data-based impact, they in turn use what they have gained to develop insights, services, products and policies that deliver broader public impacts.

Looking at patterns in this analysis, the following correlations were identified:

  1. Searchable databases tended to be used with the general public (r = .22), while ‘enhancing institutional processes / methods’ is not (r = -.26).
  2. Analytic software (r = .23) and ‘improved institutional processes / methods’ (r = .32) were used more to develop impact with industry / business.
  3. Sharing of raw data was more often an impact development pathway with environmental impacts (r = .2) than other types.

The analysis found that research data on their own rarely develop impact, but instead they require analysis, curation, product development or other strong interventions to leverage broader non-academic value from the research data. These interventions help to bridge the gap between research data- which might otherwise go unused for the purpose of developing impact- and the diverse range of potential primary and secondary beneficiaries.

In the same sense, the impact of research data can be engineered, through closer links between government, industry and researchers, capacity building for researchers to effectively use research data to develop impact and capacity building for potential beneficiaries to establish links with researchers and to access and make sense of useful sources of research data that can be adapted to serve new purposes. Moreover, the way that research data is made available, and the nature of the support available, can affect how feasible it is to use that research data to develop new and creative pathways to impact.

Finally, there were surprisingly high ‘uniqueness’ scores for the impacts linked to research data (97%), suggesting that most of the research-data linked REF-reported impacts may have only been possible to develop through research data. However, limitations inherent in REF impact case studies have to be taken into account before drawing firm conclusions on this point.


The Dataset

  • 2_ARDC - Analysis Data.csv : Core dataset
  • 3_ARDC - list of cases : List of all REF cases used in the analysis
  • 4_ARDC - list of variables : Breakdown of all coding variables and values. Refer to the Coding Guide for a detailed description of each code.
  • 5_ARDC - ICR Data : Inter-coder reliability dataset

Other Resources


1_ARDC Report - Investigating the Link Between Research Data and Impact.pdf

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