Lessons learned through using research analytics to inform strategic decision-making

On the blog today we hear from Dr Kirsty Collinge, Strategic Research Executive, as she shares her insights into data-informed research strategies.

I joined the University of Edinburgh in March as Strategic Research Executive within the Research Support Office’s (RSO) newly formed Strategic Research Initiatives Team. Keen to demonstrate immediate value to RSO, I accepted an offer from Elsevier to represent the University as the only invited UK speaker at the SciVal Turkey, Middle East and Iran user Group in Istanbul on 26 April. For those of you unfamiliar with SciVal, it allows you to explore and analyse data from Scopus, the largest abstract and citation database of peer-reviewed literature. I like to describe it as an ‘enabling tool’ that lets users characterise research performance, investigate collaborations, and analyse research trends.

In thinking about what the focus of my presentation should be, I began to reflect on my time spent supporting senior research leaders in developing and implementing data-informed research strategy, in particular through the use of research analytics. At this point, you may be wondering what research analytics actually are, the answer is simple: any indicator of research activity or performance, whether quantitative or qualitative.

Extracting, analysing and synthesising data from university systems and external resources allows us to characterise and investigate the research landscape across the University, and consider strategically important questions such as:

  • Research areas and topics: What does research activity look like in different disciplinary areas? Which researchers and universities are active in these areas?
  • Collaboration: With whom are we collaborating and in what areas? In what areas is there potential for new collaborations?
  • Research environment: What conditions best support impactful research?

I chose to focus my talk on how user group attendees might begin to use research analytics to inform strategic decision-making within their own institutions. Below is a summary of key messages delivered, together with some all-important lessons learned:

  • Always start with the question you are trying to answer. From here think about which research analytics, if any, are most appropriate and in what combination
  • Follow the Golden Rules
    • 1) always use both qualitative and quantitative input into your decisions. Integrated intelligence produces deeper, richer, and more rounded insights;
    • 2) always use more than one research metric as the quantitative input. Using multiple metrics prevents bias and encourages responsible use in research assessment;
  • Engage with senior research leaders. Not only does this promote transparency and secure buy-in, it is essential for ensuring strategic decision making is sensitive to the local context in which the wider academic community operate
  • Limitations and Relevance. Be clear on the data sources used, including any limitations and caveats, and the disciplinary relevance of indicators selected. For example, coverage of arts and humanities in citation databases is low in comparison with scientific disciplines. To illustrate the limitations of metrics further, I recommend searching the web for our Nobel prize-winner Peter Higgs thoughts on publication culture!

In a ‘post-truth’ world, it is more important than ever that we can demonstrate the value of research activity to society. UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) has explicitly identified ‘evidence-informed evaluation’ in the launch of its recent strategy, and are planning a ‘UKRI data hub’, linking in where possible with ‘what works in research’ or ‘meta-research’ activity ongoing elsewhere in the sector. It is worth noting there may also be future funding opportunities here for ‘meta-research’, which looks to combine data analytics with a blend of quantitative methods to explore effective research evaluation.

Further information on access to SciVal for University of Edinburgh staff is available here.  For a quick but comprehensive overview, I recommend watching the Introduction to SciVal video available here.

Dr Kirsty Collinge is Strategic Research Executive in the Strategic Research Initiatives Team within the Research Support Office, University of Edinburgh. LinkedIn: Kirsty Collinge

Contributions also from Dr Louise Ker, Research Business Intelligence Officer within the Research Support Office, University of Edinburgh.

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