(SciSIP); encouraging researchers to maximize their “pathways to impact”; and adding the assessment of impact as a factor in allocating new funds to UK universities. In 2006 the MRC started using an online system called e-Val. The system, which replaces end-of-grant reporting, requires grant recipients to make online reports each year, resulting in structured feedback over the lifetime of a grant rather than a long report at the end summarizing years of progress. The evaluation is designed to track how scientists are influencing policy development and contributing to new products and interventions. In building the evaluation, the MRC asked questions intended to yield hard evidence of impacts, outcomes, and output, in addition to traditional tracking of papers and patents.
In two years of data gathering, more than 3,000 researchers have participated. The system has collected 70,000 reports representing feedback on £2 billion of MRC funding, or 92 percent of MRC expenditures in the last four years. In 2010 the evaluation provided details on 5,000 active collaborations. Since 2006, MRC researchers reported over 130 citations in policy documents, 360 new products and interventions in development, 200 published patents, and 37,500 publications.
The online evaluation system helps the MRC link research outputs with the social, economic, and academic impacts of research. For example, one study done by the Health Economics Research Group, the Office of Health Economics, and RAND Europe (2008) focused on the return on investment for research on cardiovascular disease and mental health. Combined with data from e-Val, the study built a strong quantitative argument for investment in medical research in time for the change of party control of government in 2009 and the subsequent review of all government spending.
Monitoring policy citations and the influence of scientists in policy helps track progress over time and demonstrates how research translates to clinical practice, said Viney. The evaluations also have given context to case studies, which the council often uses to illustrate to the government the benefits of MRC funding. But it is not easy to encourage researchers to think about the ultimate objectives of their work and how to maximize their impact. Viney pointed out that the medical community is somewhat more accustomed to this, while other disciplines are more resistant.
The Research Councils UK (RCUK), which is made up of seven UK research councils that together allocate £3 billion each year to research, is keen to maximize the economic, academic, and societal