Broader impact of research in society

Over the last few years, the debate about the impact of research, about how to assess or monitor impact, and – ultimately – about the meaning of impact has intensified. A special theme in the State of Scientific Research in Finland 2016 review was to explore the broader impact or research in society by combining qualitative and quantitative methods. The review analysed the different types of impact arising from research and research-based knowledge as well as the pathways through which impact is realised.

Research affects a wide range of activities and developments in society. The spheres, time spans and types of those effects can vary extensively. Different research fields have different impact profiles, and the objectives and contributions of research may also vary within a research field.

The report State of Scientific Research in Finland 2016 (available in Finnish only) outlines the broader impact of research from two perspectives: the roles of science in society and the routes to impact beyond academia. One important route to impact is proficient people. In the report, this is analysed in terms of the placement of doctoral degree holders in society.

State of scientific research in Finland 2016 - Special theme: Broader impact of research in society (PDF)

To examine the role of doctoral degree holders in society the Academy of Finland conducted a survey for doctoral degree holders in four different research fields. The target group of the survey consisted of Finnish residents who had been awarded a doctoral degree from a Finnish university between 2005 and 2014. The key results of the survey are presented in the following report.

The Role of doctoral degree holders in Society (PDF)

Surveys and interviews in four research fields

The impact of research beyond academia was explored from the direction of research activities, focusing on four different research fields:

  • ecology, evolutionary biology and ecophysiology
  • history
  • medical engineering and health technologies
  • materials science and technology.

Together, these fields provide complementary views of the diverse ways in which academic research is linked and contributes to the rest of society. A large survey and interview dataset was collected from these research fields.

Role of science in society

The broader impact of research can be analysed, for instance, in terms of the different roles science has in society. Scientific research is expected to contribute to society, for example, in the following issues:

  • Human understanding and world view: Research-based knowledge and abilities build, sustain and develop individuals’ and societies’ understanding of the surrounding world and their part in it.
  • Wealth and prosperity: Research-based knowledge and abilities open material prospects for sustaining and increasing the wellbeing of people and societies.
  • Basis for decision-making: Research-based knowledge and abilities underpin societal decision-making, policies and problem-solving; they can also ease individuals’ choices.
  • Practice development: Research-based knowledge and abilities generate, sustain and advance competencies and professional practices.

Routes of impact

Research impact can be considered by looking at the routes by which research-based knowledge and abilities are conveyed beyond academia. The main routes of impact can be viewed as follows:

  • Transfer of research results: The results, inventions, methods or other outputs of research come into use beyond academia. There may be a lot of previous research and development in the background.
  • Cooperation and interaction: Researchers work alongside and discuss and exchange knowledge with stakeholders beyond academia, such as business and industry, public authorities, education, civic organisations or professional practitioners.
  • Proficient people: Research-based knowledge, expertise, vision and skills are conveyed by people who move and act beyond academia.

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