By Laura Lugg, Head of Evaluation, AHRC.
Are Research Councils doing enough to facilitate contact with the research base? What are the barriers to collaboration? Is the Research Councils’ combined investment having a positive impact?
These are some of the questions explored in a recent RCUK survey of research users. The RCUK User Satisfaction Survey 2012, conducted by Pye Tait on behalf of RCUK, gathered the views of over 1,000 respondents working in the public, private and third sectors. These respondents, and others like them, use and engage with the research we fund so their views are very important to us. Feedback from the survey will help inform Research Council decision-making at all levels and further encourage the uptake of research outputs by the user community.
We are pleased to see that we are engaging new users year-on-year, as well as maintaining and enhancing our longer-term relationships – some of which stand at more than 50 years. The survey also showed that interactions with academics has both increased and become easier in the past two years for a significant number of users. This is a positive indication that researchers are thinking more about potential beneficiaries, and seeing user engagement as a key step in realising the benefits of their work. It is also encouraging to hear from so many users that they see the excellence of the UK research base as a unique selling point for their organisations, and that they are keen to continue their engagements with the Research Councils in the future.
The Research Councils play an important role in brokering relationships between academics and beneficiaries of their work. They are also driving a culture change that is seeing impact-generating activities such as user engagement becoming more valued, more frequent and of better quality. The survey findings suggest that there is a strong appetite from academics and users to work together, with both sides benefitting from the relationship.
A key development aimed at the user community is Gateway to Research. A web-based portal, it aims to give the public access to information about research funded by the Research Councils. It will also provide a mechanism for businesses and other interested parties to identify potential partners in universities to develop and commercialise knowledge, and to maximise the impact of publicly funded research. Users have told us that this will be beneficial to them in many ways, including locating expertise and building relationships. This is welcome validation that we are on the right tracks. A ‘beta’ version of Gateway to Research was released last week on 12 December, and the final system will be launched at the end of 2013.