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Excellence in Innovation for Australia (EIA) Trial

PostPosted: Sat Mar 08, 2014 7:55 pm
by mgcrisp
There has been a growing interest recently in the idea that the university sector in Australia needs to demonstrate the benefits of the research it is producing. There has never really been any doubt that university research has produced some astounding benefits (Gardasil, Relenza, Cochlear implants, the Jameson cell...the list is very long). However, university research is heavily funded by the public dollar so is there some obligation to show the public what they are getting for their money?

In 2012, the Australian Technology Network (ATN) along with the Group of Eight (Go8) conducted a trial to determine whether it was possible for the impact of research conducted in Australian universities to be evaluated using a 'case study' methodology. While the production and evaluation of the case studies was quite time-consuming it did provide a collection of compelling stories (a sample of some of these stories can be viewed here:

The EIA trial was a success in that it showed it was possible to evaluate research impact using a combination of case studies and evaluation panels of experts (including a large proportion of 'end-users' panelists). However, this result was not really that surprising as similar exercises have been conducted successfully overseas - e.g. the UK's Research Excellence Framework (REF).

Some things to consider when evaluating research impact include: how the impact of the social sciences, humanities and arts are quantified. It is relatively straightforward to put a dollar value on research that results in a marketable 'widget' or new pharmaceutical; it is not as straightforward to put a dollar value on research that improves our cultural capital, or helps us better understand our place in the world, or to build culturally-specific housing for remote indigenous communities.

Another thing to consider is the cost associated with the collection, reporting, evaluating and publishing of the impact case studies. It is not an inexpensive exercise so consideration must be given to not just whether the evaluation mechanism is optimal but whether we need an evaluation mechanism at all.

Australian universities are doing amazing research. It will be very interesting to see where Australia goes next with research impact.