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Measuring Research Impact: Hei Tīmata | Getting Started

A guide to measuring the impact of your research

Research impact refers to how a piece of research has contributed to the world. It can be measured on a number of levels, including personal (based on the author), article (where you have published in a journal), and journal (for informing publishing strategy). Measuring and demonstrating impact can be helpful for preparing funding and promotion applications, academic CVs and research assessment activities. It is becoming increasingly important for funders that the impact of research can be planned for, tracked, and demonstrated.

Types of impact

Research impact can be measured quantitatively (for example, by metrics) or qualitatively (for example, by peer review). It can also be measured in the context of academia (for example, by citations) and outside of academia (for example, social and economic impact).

It is important to understand that impact is viewed differently in different contexts and disciplines. Above all else, impact should be measured according to the goals of the research, which may vary widely. For example, some researchers aim to enhance cultural lives or improve health outcomes, others may aim to create economic prosperity or improve environmental sustainability.

Some of the types of impact research can make include:

  • Academic impact: the contributions research has made to the advancement of the academic community. This impact is most often measured by citations, and may be referred to as traditional impact, standing apart for the ‘real world’ impact types outlined below.
  • Knowledge impact: can include how research has led to the development of innovations and ideas, that have informed further research both within and outside your discipline.
  • Economic impact: this can include influencing productivity, contributions to economic growth, or job creation. This impact may be localised (i.e. a single organisation), or at a national or international level.
  • Environmental impact: is where research has made a difference to the management and preservation of natural resources, including influences on environmental pollution, climate, and meteorological conditions.
  • Health impact: refers to the various ways in which research influences health policies and systems, or interventions that affect the health of individuals and communities. This is sometimes referred to as Wellbeing Impact which would include health outcomes a well as wider social aspects such as emotional, psychological, and life satisfaction.
  • Societal impact: closely related to Health Impact, Societal Impact can refer to improvements in the health or well-being of communities. It could include developing or amending services which improve health or otherwise empower members of society.
  • Cultural impact: is the measurement of the contribution a cultural work makes to the understanding of ideas, reality, values and beliefs. The impact of a performance or exhibition might be demonstrated by audience size or reach, reviews or recognition.

Responsible metric use

There are many different ways of measuring research impact. Metrics provide a useful way to quantify the attention a piece of research receives, however, it's important to acknowledge their various limitations and use them responsibly.

The Metrics Toolkit outlines the limitations of 28 types of research metrics, along with notes about how they're calculated and examples of appropriate use. You can also use the Explore Metrics function to narrow your range of metrics by type of research.

In 2015, the Higher Education Funding Council for England commissioned an Independent Review of the Role of Metrics in Research Assessment and Management. They reported their findings in the publication The Metric Tide.  The report argues that responsible metric use can be understood in terms of five dimensions:

  1. Robustness: Basing metrics on the best possible data in terms of accuracy and scope
  2. Humility: Recognising that quantitative evaluation should support - but not supplant - qualitative, expert assessment
  3. Transparency: Keeping data collection and analytical processes open and transparent, so that those being evaluated can test and verify the results
  4. Diversity: Accounting for variation by field, and using a range of indicators to reflect and support a plurality of research and researcher career paths across the system
  5. Reflexivity: Recognising and anticipating the system and potential effects of indicators, and updating them in response

Wilsdon, J., et al. (2015). The Metric Tide: Report of the Independent Review of the Role of Metrics in Research Assessment and Management.

Other resources that explore the responsible use of metrics include the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA) and the Leiden Manifesto.

To ensure the data used to calculate your metrics is as accurate as possible, visit the Researcher Visibility page.

See also:

Profiles, not metrics (Clarivate)

HumetricsHSS Initiative

Need Help?

For assistance, reach out to the Open Research Team at