Updated: Feb 21
Most researchers don’t want to become business owners or spend their lives on the road, communicating their results to those who need them or getting their innovations into the hands of the people who can use them. How do you create a team that can sustain itself and get your research into the real world while you continue doing what you do best, coming up with the next big idea with your research team? What adaptations are needed and who funds them? Is there a training element, a manual or an app that needs to be developed? How do you retain control over the fidelity of your research for the years ahead?
We took some innovative smoking prevention research from University of Bristol and Cardiff University and set up a spinout company with the two universities who owned the IP. The founding academics had neither the time, nor the expertise to support the dissemination of the intervention but knew it could have significant public health impact. Setting up the company was challenging and required much collaboration over 18 months. Despite that, the investment was worth it as nearly 10 years later, that original piece of research continues to run as a public health programme across the UK and more recently, overseas.
As a not-for-profit organisation working in the public sector, our customers are mainly Local Authorities. Austerity measures have made for a challenging commissioning landscape but having a cost-effective, evidence-based programme with built in support helps us make a difference.
How can you maximise the effort, funding and potential of your research in the real world?
Now, more than ever before, researchers are being asked to demonstrate in their funding bids how their work will have real world impact. A freely provided intervention which was readily taken up by the target audience during a trial, may be less appealing when it has a financial cost attached to it. Equally if an intervention if offered free of charge, who will provide any up-front training or later Quality Assurance? Commissioning priorities can and often do change. How does an intervention get updated and maintained?
An intervention may be cost-effective, but still unaffordable. Are there any elements of the research that are desirable but not essential? An extensive market appraisal might assist you in identifying a range of options and criteria that would increase the uptake of your intervention. Are you able to support the dissemination of your research and do you want to? Is it more realistic to set up a spinout company with dedicated resource to monitor and over time develop your intervention?
What did we do to disseminate the research?
The University of Bristol and Cardiff University jointly set up a not-for-profit company - Evidence to Impact - to provide the ASSIST smoking prevention programme through a licensing approach. It was important that the company was able to deliver training and service the needs of new ASSIST customers from the outset. There was no time to build up gradually as it was the revenue from the initial tranche of 10 licences which provided the company set-up funding.
The licensing approach made the responsibilities of both parties very clear. It also helped to protect the integrity of the research by being very selective about who could deliver ASSIST, to whom, and in what way. The licence also referred to the Quality Assurance element of the programme which was introduced to ensure high standards of delivery. After the research was published, NICE guidance recommended ASSIST as an evidence-based smoking prevention programme. It has also recently been added to the Early Intervention Foundation Guidebook.
How did we become a REF2014 case study?
The successful dissemination of ASSIST across the UK made ASSIST a 4* research impact case study for the REF2014 which is significant in terms of reputation and also the amount of funding received. In recent years, ASSIST has also expanded to France and Colombia in conjunction with further academic research in those companies and is being used again as a 2021 REF case study.
How can we help you?
Evidence to Impact continues to work with its founding universities as well as many other institutions across the UK covering topics including mental health, classroom behaviour management, bullying and aggression, diabetes prevention and many more. Whilst the company predominantly focusses on young people and health behaviours, we also advise academics on how to maximise the impact of their research in the real world. We can assist in developing existing intervention materials and introduce new ones. Maybe you envisage a national conference or regional seminars for your end users. Perhaps you want to collect implementation data or carry out further research. Maximising your impact is not an exact science; it needs to fit the intervention, the audience, the budget and commissioning priorities.