Economic benefits from knowledge efforts become apparent when they are actually used by others to develop new and improved products, processes, and services. This means that collecting data about knowledge generation and dissemination activities provides only an indirect measure of impacts. Such data can, however, help us construct indicators of potential economic impacts. Examples of possible indicators include the number of patents per research dollar, characteristics of collaborative networks formed, and sales of commercialized goods and services. Trends in these and other indicators may indicate that developments are occurring along an indirect path—as would be expected for projects that are progressing toward the generation of broad impacts.
It is apparent from the NRC Phase II Survey results that it would be possible to compile multiple indicators of knowledge generation and dissemination and early commercialization achievements from NSF SBIR projects, as well as to track them over time. Thus far, however, it appears that such indicators have been developed only partially and on an ad hoc basis. It also appears that more could be done to systematically compile and track indicators of knowledge generation and dissemination if desired.