Research Impact: A United Kingdom Occupational Therapy Research Foundation Perspective

By Sainty, Mandy | British Journal of Occupational Therapy, December 2013 | Go to article overview

Research Impact: A United Kingdom Occupational Therapy Research Foundation Perspective


Sainty, Mandy, British Journal of Occupational Therapy


Introduction

The Research Councils UK (RCUK) identifies academic, economic, and societal components of research impact (RCUK 2013). In the university sector the importance of research impact has been exemplified by its inclusion in the Research Excellence Framework (REF), the system which will determine the financial allocation for universities by the four United Kingdom funding bodies from 2015/16 (Higher Education Funding Council for England [HEFCE] et al ca. 2012). The REF, expanding on the RCUK statement, defines research impact as: 'an effect on, change or benefit to the economy, society, culture, public policy or services, health, the environment or quality of life beyond academia' (HEFCE et al 2011, p26).

The United Kingdom Occupational Therapy Research Foundation (UKOTRF) is a division of the College of Occupational Therapists (COT) and was established in 2007. The aims of UKOTRF are to meet research priorities of the profession, develop occupational therapy leaders, and build research capacity. Two main competitive funding streams are offered annually for members of the British Association of Occupational Therapists: research priority grants and career development grants. These grants provide an 'opportunity to support occupation-focused research and capacity development' (White et al 2013, p2).

Investment in UKOTRF is relatively small scale, but there is nevertheless a question as to whether the funded research demonstrates value and impact. A European Science Foundation report highlights that understanding what research is delivering is a crucial element in making the case for investment (European Science Foundation 2011, p3).

The UKOTRF contracting process requires grant holders to produce two specific outputs in addition to a final project report: a submission to the British Journal of Occupational Therapy (BJOT), and an abstract submission to a COT annual conference. These type of research 'outputs' are, however, only one dimension of the potential impact or outcomes of the research process. The overarching aim of this study was, therefore, to explore the wider scope of the research impact of UKOTRF-funded studies.

Literature review

A search was conducted to identify and facilitate a review of the contextual literature (articles and grey literature reports) in relation to the assessment of research impact. Five databases were searched for the period 2000-2013 (CINAHL, AMED, Psychlnfo, HMIC, Social Policy and Practice), with subsequent harvesting of further references from articles retrieved. A total of 37 items were reviewed.

Research impact models

The Health Economics Research Group, based at Brunel University, has taken a leading role in the United Kingdom (UK) in measuring the impact of health and medical research. Their Payback Framework (Buxton and Hanney 1996) is based on a logic model consisting of seven stages and two interfaces between the research system and the wider political, professional, and economic environment. The framework has been applied in a number of UK-based studies (Buxton et al 2000, Centre for Policy in Nursing Research et al 2001, Hanney et al 2004, Hanney et al 2007, Peckham et al 2008, Soper and Hanney 2007, Wooding 2006) and internationally (Canadian Academy of Health Sciences 2009, Kalucy et al 2009, Nason et al 2008).

A more recent framework, the Becker Medical Library Model for Assessment of Research Impact, developed at the Washington University School of Medicine Becker Medical Library (Sarli et al 2010), includes a focus on the research process and specific indicators for assessment of research impact; it is supported by a freely available impact indicators tool (Sarli and Holmes 2012).

The areas of impact included in both the Payback Framework (Donovan and Hanney 2011), and the Sarli and Holmes (2012) model essentially mirror those defined by the REF, with only slight variations in terminology and detail in the dimensions addressed. …

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