Faculty and staff from the University of Maryland, College Park (UMCP) and the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) gathered in November for a University of Maryland: MPowering the State workshop sponsored by the campuses’ research divisions titled “Achieving Broader Research Impact in the 21st Century: What It Means and Why It Matters.” Led by Universitas 21’s Researcher Engagement Manager Christina Mellor and the University of Nottingham’s Head of Research Outcomes, Financial & Business Services Steven Hardy, the attendees discussed how to define and measure the broader impact of university research, how to change the research process by accounting for broader impact, and the best ways to communicate the broader impact of research.
Defined by the Higher Education Funding Council for England as “an effect on, change to, or benefit to the economy, society, culture, public policy or services, health, the environment, or quality of life, beyond academia,” broader impact takes into account more than just the advancement of knowledge when considering the impacts of research to include the social, economic, and individual impacts. The National Science Foundation similarly urges researchers to consider questions such as how well a proposed research topic will broaden the participation of underrepresented groups and to what extent it will enhance the infrastructure for research and education.
The workshop activities, which took place on November 8 in College Park at the Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute and on November 9 in Baltimore at the UMB School of Pharmacy, included a discussion of how to effectively measure and communicate the broader impact of research, multiple collaborative activities that involved analyzing the broader impacts of active research at UMCP and UMB, analysis of case studies, and mock interviews with Ali Hurtado, assistant professor of family science in the School of Public Health, and Amitabh Varshney, computer science professor and director of the University of Maryland Institute for Advanced Computer Studies (UMIACS).
"These types of workshops and discussions are important in reinforcing the idea that research and innovation affect every aspect of our life, from personal well-being to broader societal impact,” said Varshney.
The purpose of the workshop was to:
Over the summer, UMCP’s Division of Research evaluated its strategy for strategic impact and developed a new vision for how the research enterprise drives economic and social impact. The result is the research continuum for strategic impact, a model that emphasizes the exchange of knowledge and data between our researchers, research administrators, and commercialization, development, and communications staff to best facilitate research at UMCP. This visualization conveys the idea that an award never actually ends and emphasizes the continual exchange that leads to new ideas, new research partnerships, new corporate relationships, and most importantly, economic and social impact ranging from new jobs and products to life-changing research discoveries.
The importance of effectively communicating the broader impacts of research was also heavily emphasized in the workshop, especially in light of proposed cuts to federal funding of academic research.
“Communicating the broader impacts of research supports those beyond the research community in understanding the societal impact and benefits of sponsored research, especially federally funded sponsored research,” said Denise Clark, UMCP associate vice president for research administration.
“The contents that we reviewed orient the university as a whole: administrators, faculty and staff, to start thinking about impact -in the broad sense of the word- with a different mindset than usual when addressing research and research administration. Having this chance in an early stage, in comparison with other countries, gives the university an advantage regarding on how to address these requirements,” said Rodrigo Cevallos Gonzalez, Deputy Director of Research, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, who traveled from Chile to participate in the workshop.
“This workshop provided us with insights into the rigor and evidence needed to formally document research impact,” said Dushanka Kleinman, associate dean for research and professor at the UMCP School of Public Health. “We are very grateful for the opportunity.”
December 7, 2017