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How to measure research impact: an interview with Carlos Galan-Diaz

How to measure research impact: an interview with Carlos Galan-Diaz
On the occasion of the OpenAIRE workshop "What is the social, economic and academic impact of Open Access and how can it be measured?", we had the chance to meet Carlos Galan-Diaz, who gave a very nice speech on the impact of research on society.
Carlos is Research Impact Officer at the University of Glasgow, and we were curious to know what exactly his job was about.

Thanks Carlos for answering our questions, and enjoy the interview!

Q. Can you tell us more about the initiative of the personal impact plan at your university? What is your job of research impact officer about?
The Personal Impact Plan, PIP as I effectively call it sometimes, sometimes… was born out of the need to have a one page document that I could use to support researchers in my College, and occasionally other parts of the University, to reflect on their own practices when it comes to their research and the ways they could use some of these tips as a basis for non-academic (and academic) impact. It is not so much an initiative as it is a one-page document, however it has turned out to be the basis for a bigger plan of work where the PIP is the beginning for conversations around researchers’ work and their possible ways forward. As a bit of context, my role is to support every academic in my College, I work for the College of Social Sciences at the University of Glasgow, and we have over 650 staff in the College alone. Around 40% of them are academic posts, the rest are post-docs, teaching staff and assistants. Basically, I am supporting College staff to translate whatever research they are doing for non-academic audiences and stakeholders, in other words, to identify and articulate the non-academic implications of their work. On the one hand this is about organisational change so that every member of staff recognises and manages his or her personal impact plan development, and on the other hand, it is about fulfilling the different requirements from our funders.

[caption id="attachment_1976" align="aligncenter" width="616"] The Personal Impact Plan is a tool developed at the University of Glasgow to raise researchers' awareness on the impact of their research - inside and outside academia.

Q. Describe the Enlighten repository and the personal impact plan you developed
Let me be honest with regards to this, I firmly believe that one rarely develops things single-handedly, I am surrounded by fantastic and enthusiastic people across the University who have taken the brave opportunity of trying to work differently in terms of how we carry out our University mission to bring inspiring people together and create a world-class environment for learning and research, empowering staff and students to discover and share knowledge that can change the world.  So this is not rhetoric but something that we work towards every day, and the PIP and the impact repository are part of this.
First, as I’ve mentioned earlier, the PIP is that one-stop document where a researcher can demystify or clarify what Impact should be understood as. Second, in order for researchers to effectively, securely and sustainably record their activities and interactions with others they have at their disposal the Impact repository, which so happens to be an Enlighten based solution. This is simply a data repository that is capable of dealing with any electronic information that may be relevant to a researcher and allows some of us (tasked with the job of guiding, supporting and advising) to see their developments and use this evidence to further support their work.
We have done a significant amount of work on the repository and we are about to launch the second iteration of it. As such we have a small but active number of users but we expect this to grow steadily in the coming months.
There are clear and significant results in the provision of Impact related support. These go from better funding applications, through clearer research trajectories, to demonstrable change as a result of the engagement that researchers do with others. For example, some of our researchers have provided research-based advice that has been the basis for policy changes at different levels of government (local, national and European), other researchers have enabled organisations to make financial savings, streamline organisations' practices, and in other areas our researchers have successfully shown creative ways of allowing the general population to live healthier lives.  The examples are numerous.
The challenges of any change are partly to do with the technology and partly to do with the implementation and user uptake.  I do not envisage an avalanche of activity in the use of the repository but a steady progression whereby the results will speak for themselves and researchers will be more inclined to use it.

Q. Based on your experience, what will you define as the impact of open access?
Open Access (or the lack of) has been an important aspect of my formative and professional life.  I remember numerous occasions, many moons ago, when I spent days in the library looking at the book of abstracts from a given journal (later on in CD form, which made everything faster), making notes of the relevant issues in a given journal and then going to the shelves to find the particular item; sometimes I was in luck and the issue was sitting there, other times someone had cleverly misplaced the item (or hidden it for their own use) or borrowed it, in the worst case scenario my library didn’t have the actual journal/issue. If I was lucky then I could proceed to make copious notes or queue at the Xerox machine, if I wasn’t so lucky then I would make a decision on whether to pursue contacting a researcher via postal address. One of my unlucky times turned to magic when a couple of months after writing to the then President of the American Psychological Association I received a large, and heavy, envelope with several photocopies and author copies of the articles I was after!
So, in answer to your question, the impacts of open access are numerous, with the main one being in the name itself: it allows us to reach information with ease. This accessibility of information is then highly likely to provide other benefits, from increased quality of the research (from allowing a little delay in the sharing of research ideas) to the potential of engaging the wider society.
I think that Danny Kingsley and Sarah Brown do a much better job than I could possibly do in their infographic ©Danny Kingsley and Sarah Brown via Australasian Open Access Strategy Group).
As I mentioned during the OpenAIRE workshop in Oslo, one has to take this with caution though as there are some concerns as to what is happening with the current practices of information sharing (downloading) versus citations (another metric that doesn’t go without criticism), namely: the number of downloads (shares) does not necessarily tally with the number of average citations, the former is significantly larger than the latter. What are researchers doing (assuming that this is the main group downloading/sharing such data) with this information, or why does it not convert into a citation?

Q. Tell us a bit about yourself: how did you start working on the impact of research? How is Psychology related to impact?
I am an environmental psychologist by training and I have spent my whole career working on topics to do with research and its applications. My PhD (Robert Gordon University) focused on psychological perspective-taking and emotion in environmental evaluation and environmental preference, how do designers/architects present environmental information to users, how do users respond to change in the environment and the nuances of their relationships and the design process (for example https://theconversation.com/architectures-brief-love-affair-with-psychology-is-overdue-a-revival-45896). My BSc (Faculty of Psychology at UNAM, Mexico City), was a study about the disciplinary differences of tacit skills and tacit knowledge at UNAM (Mexico’s largest public university) where I studied what researchers in different disciplines regard as the most important skills and knowledge that they need to carry out their research and research collaborations. On reflection, I think I have always been interested in the ‘so what?’ of research, but it is only in recent times that we call this ‘impact’ (see http://umps.de/php/artikeldetails.php?id=634). I slowly moved towards working on impact issues and eventually I was the Impact Research Fellow for the RCUK funded dot.rural Digital Economy Hub at Aberdeen University for two and a bit years.  dot.rural was the first RCUK investment to have a dedicated impact post as part of its foundations, in a way I grew up with the development of the Impact Agenda; after this, I came to the University of Glasgow. The way that Psychology is related to impact is that it provides me with knowledge and tools to understand how people perceive, make sense and relate to each other and the world around them.

If you are interested in knowing more, here's the recordings of the webinar on Research Impact that Carlos Galan-Diaz recently prepared for EIFL.

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20 Jan 2021

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