We've blogged previously about the dangers of seeing impact tracking systems as the solution for tracking impact. To be successful, any system must have the needs of the people generating the impacts at its heart, and reflect the perceptions of those who are actually using the research. So an online impact tracking tool is probably only going to be one small part of a wider systems that’s embedded at various levels in your institution. If you get this right, then you might have a bunch of people who are motivated to record impacts as they are generated, and who might want an online system to help them keep track of it all.
There are a number of reasons why institutions are increasingly turning to online systems:
By making the process of recording a impact activities fast and simple, the theory is that researchers will record impacts as they arise, rather than waiting to be prompted
By increasing the proportion of researchers recording their activities, there is a lower risk that impacts go unrecorded, so a more comprehensive record of impact activity can be built across the institution
Identify people involved with particular activities and impacts, to target additional support to particular teams to enhance impact
Enable good practice in knowledge exchange and impact to be shared across the institution
Give marketing teams a fully searchable list of all the different impact generation activities taking place across the organisation, as well as a repository of media resources (e.g. photographs and video) linked to impacts that can be used to market research activity
Help researchers build online CVs to promote their own work more effectively, integrating metrics that demonstrate the (social, online) impact of their work
Off-the-shelf or in-house?
If you want to start using an impact tracking system, the first choice you are likely to be faced with, is between buying access to an existing system or creating your own in-house system. The table below summarises some of the pros and cons of each approach.
Table 1: Pros and cons of buying access to an external system versus in-house
The University of Coventry developed their own in-house system. A more stripped-down prototype in-house system has been developed by University of Leeds, and other Universities are developing their own systems. In-house systems offer the ability to tailor the design to the specific needs of the institution, and the capacity to adapt the system to the changing needs and preferences of local users, but this typically comes at a high cost.
For many, the decision will boil down to whether the University has the expertise to develop and maintain a system with the functionality it wants, and whether up-front costs of development and the long-term costs of maintaining, updating and supporting an in-house system are worth it. For some, these sorts of costs may be hidden and make use of existing teams that would otherwise be under-utilised. Although some of the off-the-shelf options may be comparably expensive, some are likely to be far more cost-effective than developing an in-house system. Although these systems might not offer everything you want, given how much money and time you could save, it is worth taking a serious look at what’s already out there.
Off-the-shelf: ResearchFish®, Kolola and ImpactStory compared
We decided to road-test three of the most widely used and relevant existing systems for tracking impact. We started by creating accounts and trying the demos that are publicly available. We then sent our evaluations to each company and asked for feedback, which led to some personal tuition in the capabilities of some of the sites. This means you’re able to read the most detailed and accurate assessment to date of these systems’ ability to track research impact.
Table 2 provides a comparison of features from these three sites. It is important to note that each of these systems has been designed for very different purposes, and so this is not a “like for like” comparison. The comparison is based purely on features that are designed to track impact, or in the case of ResearchFish®, we focus a sub-set of impact-related outcomes that are routinely captured in their system.
We have not reviewed systems that are focused solely on collecting details of publications (e.g. Pure and Mendeley), even where these offer collaborative spaces for researchers to interact with each other. Bibliometric measures of impact, even when these related to public interest in research, are fairly crude indicators of actual impacts on society, and would not be eligible for inclusion in most assessments of research impact. However, Altmetrics are growing in popularity and do offer a number of benefits to researchers who want to enhance their public engagement. In addition to ImpactStory, covered here, there are other altmertric websites that measure online impact of research in relation to the amount that articles are viewed, downloaded, discussed and cited, such as Figshare and Altmetric.com. There is also a range of other tools that can enable collaboration between researchers and that may be adapted to collect information about impacts, but these are not considered here as they are not specifically designed for researchers or for tracking impact (for example, Microsoft Office 365 and Yammer, Sugar Customer Relations Management Pro, and LinkedIn Sales).
Table 2: Comparison of features available in ResearchFish®, Kolola and ImpactStory
In a nutshell: Enables staff across an institution to enter and organise information about their impacts
Cost: £2.68-3.00 per month per user for 100-8 users; £3000 per institution (assuming 500 users)
Researchers can input impacts as they occur
Flexible interface allows researchers to capture a wide range of impacts and add associated materials in a range of formats to illustrate and further capture impacts
Tool to create a visual timeline showing the order in which activities took place, from which a story may be constructed with researchers to share with colleagues or for REF
Impacts are accessible to research managers and marketing teams to identify interesting stories and the people behind them. These can be analysed over time (by creating a visual timeline showing the order in which activities took place), by person (showing who has submitted most/least activities), or by type of activity (via simple true/false statements assessment ensures key details are always captured for every activity) so you can compile statistics across your institutions for key variables you are interested in (Figure 1)
Collaborative tools so researchers can work together to capture impact from joint work via shared ePortfolios including:
Attach web links, e-mails, images, videos, PDFs, Office docs and more as supporting evidence
“Join” button lets users quickly add themselves to other people's activities, avoiding duplication of effort
Users can leave personal reflections on activities, aiding the collaboration process
Figure 1: Top: Statements used to capture impacts in Kolola; Bottom: Front page user interface showing different events captured in the system