Research infrastructures (RIs) are among the most expensive items on the list of European and national research budget expenditure. This leads to an increased policy attention to assess the benefits of these investments. Decision makers are requesting more and better evidence not only on scientific achievements enabled by these facilities but also wider societal impacts that research infrastructures contribute to. Besides the acute need for more empirical evidence base from academic research on wider societal benefits of RIs, R&I policy researchers at EFIS Centre believe there is an equally important need to synthesise and advance practice-led knowledge from an increasing number of research infrastructure attempts to understand, scope, and measure the societal footprint from their activities.

The H2020 funded and EFIS Centre led project Charting Impact Pathways of Investment in Research Infrastructures (RI-PATHS) that concluded in 2020 offers the first conceptual mapping of the complex underlying processes showing how RIs bring benefits to society and the economy by outlining 13 high-level impact pathways. Over the last four years our team has developed and refined a participatory impact pathway approach to evaluations used in the RI-PATHS project by employing the principles of participatory co-design. Mentoring and consulting RIs like ELIXIR, CERN, ALBA, DESY, ESO we have accumulated practical insights that could be applicable also in the impact assessment efforts of other RIs.

This year EFIS Centre is taking part in an ELIXIR Implementation Study that aims to increase capacity of impact evaluation across a set of national ELIXIR Nodes. ELIXIR is a pan-European research infrastructure for life science data, with 21 Member countries plus the European Molecular Biology Laboratory. The mission of ELIXIR is to coordinate bioinformatics resources so that they form a single, integrated and pan-European infrastructure, which can be used freely by academic and private-sector researchers across the globe. The challenges and their pragmatic solutions of ELIXIR practice-led impact journey is usefully presented in a peer review article “Demonstrating public value to funders and other stakeholders—the journey of ELIXIR”. We believe that lessons learned are sufficiently transferable and can be inspirational to other research infrastructures that only start their impact assessment journey.

Interactive training workshops to build capacity for impact assessment

During 2021 our team aspired to take this conceptual advancement further. Our interactions with RIs on the topic of impact assessment pointed out the acute need for more tailored guidance and hands-on assistance in various phases of the impact journey. Building on our learning through joint work with various RIs we developed a training offer for research facilities that want to better understand impact and learn how to scope and embed impact assessment in their organisational routines. The training session – either virtual or in a real room – is highly interactive and requires an active participation from RIs staff as we treat impact assessment not merely as a one-time effort but truly a collective journey towards a more uniform understanding of impact. Participating RIs need to be ready to shift their attention from accountability reasoning and viewing impact assessment as merely a bureaucratic burden to gaining knowledge on more evidence-based approaches to strategic impact management.

In November 2021, EFIS Centre team held such dedicated training event with hands-on learning opportunities. It was a virtual event but brought all the interactive elements of a groupwork by using whiteboard application MURAL that enabled an ambiance of a cosy online room. During the training ELIXIR staff members from various national nodes learned about key concepts of an impact assessment and applied this knowledge by designing impact pathways and selecting appropriate measurement indicators. The main intended outcome from this project is an increased capacity at node level to demonstrate and communicate public value to funders and other key stakeholders. In parallel to this, it is anticipated that this project will help reinforcing the ‘community of practice’ that is emerging through the iterative interactions among ELIXIR staff and impact evaluation mentors.

EFIS Centre impact training offer

We are pleased to launch dedicated training opportunities for RI staff on various aspects of impact assessment, as well as provide more tailored technical assistance projects that help embedding impact assessment in the RI organisation culture and routines. The EFIS Centre offer and expertise cover:

  • In-depth experience with evaluations and impact assessments in R&I field
  • A decade long track of record for assistance to RI strategy development, implementation of monitoring and evaluation frameworks and RI policy consulting
  • Cutting-edge knowledge and global networks on the topic on socio-economic impact assessment of research infrastructures
  • Extended knowledge of participatory evaluation techniques and novel impact assessment methods
  • In-house facilitation and whiteboard design skills for guiding virtual collaborative work.