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9.1  Developing an impacts file for individual academics

9.2 Reappraising events programmes

9.3 Building improved management of ‘customer relationships’

9. 4  Moving some version of all closed-web published research onto the open-web

9.5  Improving professional communication – starting multi-author blogs

9.6  Working better in networks



It is no accident that most universities are currently collecting bits and pieces of knowledge about their external impacts, but then rapidly losing (or ‘institutionally forgetting’) it shortly thereafter. Sometimes they do lodge the scraps and indicators they have accumulated in different small silos, but these are accessible only by those in the university who know it is there and generally walled off from view to all others. In terms of capturing external impacts as influence, and also ‘extended’ impacts (as extended consequences or social benefits) universities operate in this fashion for deep-rooted, structural reasons. Strong institutional and organisational culture influences explain the past neglect of this field.

The different disciplines have also taken a mostly siloed look at the problem. In terms of the academic sub-fields most closely involved, fragments of the knowledge needed are distributed across knowledge transfer studies, ‘translation studies’, educational research, organisational learning, innovation studies, sociology, economics, science studies, and applied philosophy. Even the terminology used to analyse impacts is not settled or agreed yet. However, Sebba (2011) suggests a useful three-way distinction between

  • ‘Knowledge transfer’ and ‘dissemination’, terms which signify only ‘the movement of evidence from one place to another in order to increase access, without directly attempting to simplify, interpret or translate findings’.
  • ‘Knowledge translation’, ‘knowledge mobilisation’, ‘research brokerage’ and ‘research mediation’, all of which may be taken to ‘imply an intention to intervene in the process, for example, summarising, interpreting, etc., so as to increase use’. But Sebba stresses that such terms ‘do not of themselves, provide evidence of use’. And
  • ‘Research use’, ‘research utilisation’ and ‘implementation’, which all ‘imply evidence of direct influence on policy or practice’. This usage might seem to ‘depend on stakeholders’ retrospective perceptions’, but Sebba stresses that it is intended to go ‘beyond rhetoric’.

Scientific and technological innovations have been the most studied aspects of impact. But even here the available literature is far from providing any effective synoptic picture of how the STEM disciplines achieve external impacts. In other areas, such as the social sciences and even more so in the humanities, the current coverage is very sparse indeed. If the state of knowledge about academic impacts is as poor as described in this handbook (despite its manifest importance for universities’ central mission); and if the agreement on how to measure academic influence is so weak, partial and fragile – it is hardly surprising that things are a lot worse in relation to external impacts.

Formulating recommendations that might help improve matters is therefore quite difficult. On the one hand, most universities are still developing processes for getting a grip on external impacts, so that the scope for suggestions might seem large. However, the drivers for improving impacts recording and assessments are weak and mostly confined to outside pressures from funding donors and governments. The constraints on improvement range from the resistance of academic staff to further monitoring and yet more demands on their already overloaded schedules to deeply embedded organisational categories and architectures that are poorly orientated towards gripping external impacts. These include the limitations of  existing role definitions, categories for recording activity, and strong ‘legacy’ IT systems that are rarely orientated to modern information needs.

Any realistic set of recommendations must therefore show how to overcome these constraints. In particular, useful suggestions for improvements must have minimal impacts in increasing academic workloads and must work with the grain of wider changes already under way in universities.

We outline six key recommendations in turn, beginning with creating an impacts file for academics- a key building block of further progress. Next we consider a key part of all universities’ external impacts effort, their events programme, and argue for a movement away from a ‘ticket-less trains’ conception and towards an integrated events concept that pays more attention to outward marketing of the university’s own impactful work. Our third recommendation focuses on developing universities’ organisational and IT systems for collecting, collating and analysing their performance in achieving external impacts. In the second half of the chapter, we shift to more outward-looking recommendations. Section 4 explores ways of ensuring that far more information about academics’ work becomes accessible via the open web, rather than lurking behind journal pay walls, specifically with a push to create open web outputs for all published research. This links closely to a key way in which universities can improve professional communication in the social sciences, and also better communicate directly with target audiences by starting multi-author blogs (MABs). Finally, we show how a better communicating university is in a much stronger (less dependent) position to operate in networks and ‘information coalitions’ with external clients and important organisations in the ‘impacts interface’, discussed in Chapter 5.

9.1  Developing an impacts file for individual academics

Even if they have stayed within the same university for a long time, virtually all academics and researchers maintain a CV (curriculum vitae) or resumé that lists their career positions in sequence, educational qualifications and professional honours, research projects conducted, grants awarded, teaching expertise, and university administrative roles undertaken. They will also have (as a component of their CV or as a separate file) a comprehensive list of all of their publications, usually date-ordered in reverse sequence and/or segmented between different types of academic publications (articles, books, etc.). Most universities require staff members to submit updated CVs and publication lists annually or at least every few years, which encourages academics to keep both documents updated.

But will the generation of external impacts show up in either of these documents and so be regularly or reliably recorded by academics or researchers? In most cases the answer will be no. Traditionally universities have tended to turn a blind eye to anything except academic impacts. Private funding of a research project by a corporation might be visible in a list of grants or contracts an academic has won or company sponsored articles might appear in their publications list. Applied academics might also list on their CV the general details of consultancies or contracts undertaken along with any spin out companies or external directorships. Apart from those cases, however, academics and researchers will rarely tend to be asked about their external impacts by their university or department, and thus will have little incentive to record the details of occasions of influence in any systematic way.

But will generating external impacts show up in either of these documents, and so be regularly or reliably recorded by academics or researchers? In most cases the answer will be – probably not. Traditionally universities have tended to turn a blind eye to anything except academic impacts. Private funding of a research project by a corporation might be visible in a list of grants or contracts won, or in publications sponsored by a company. And applied academics might also list on their CV the general details of consultancies or contracts undertaken, along with any spin out companies or external directorships. Other than that, however, academics and researchers will rarely tend to be asked about their external impacts by their university or department, and so they will have little incentive to record the details of occasions of influence in any systematic way.

We believe a foundational step for any department, faculty or university interested in learning more about its external impacts is to ask each academic staff member to develop and keep updated an ‘impacts file’. The file should allow a researcher to list in a detailed, recordable and auditable way the external organisations and specific personnel that he or she has been involved with in all occasions of influence, including the dates and times where the contact and influence occurred. Such a file would cover meetings, visits, interviews, phone calls and emails with outside organisations, and talks, seminars, lectures, training courses etc. along with details of the audience make-up. Wherever possible evaluative statements that speak to the influence on the external organisations or personnel could be compiled in a number of ways, essentially by asking external actors to record their views.

For instance, if an academic gives a talk to an outside body that is greeted enthusiastically, generates lots of questions and is warmly applauded at the end, how can this be recorded in some way? The academic involved might record how many people were in the room ,where they came from and their seniority or roles. He could then simply place a copy of the participants’ list (normally produced for external events) into the impacts file. To capture the qualitative assessment of the usefulness of the event, the academic should also ask the organiser to include a feedback in their normal follow-up ‘Thank you’ letter or email. These letters are often very formal or vacuous, but priming the organiser about what would be useful, or asking them to be more explicit about ‘impact’ could improve the quality of responses.

How each academic compiles their impact file could vary a good deal. In its most basic form it might be a box or a hanging file where all the paper records of that person’s varied external contacts are filed. This is essentially a kind of document dump, of the type academics already keep in order to help fill in their annual income tax form. The great advantage of this approach is that it is easy to do and does not impose an extra workload on staff. However, the information recorded may vary a great deal from one person to another. There may well be many gaps or omissions, which would only become clear to the academic or their organisation at the end of the year or of a multi-year reporting period – often making the occasions of influence too remote in time to be able to retro-fit the missing details.

In the middle of the spectrum academics could keep an electronic form of an data dump which records emails, contact names and meeting dates, and also data or even just links to talks given or work undertaken. If someone runs an electronic diary it might be convenient to store such details in attachments with clear labels that identify impacts occasions. However, many of the components, like chance meetings, conversations and phone calls may not be formally listed in calendar entries, raising the risk of under-recording.

At the most sophisticated end of the spectrum, a department, faculty or university might compile an ‘impacts’ database by asking academics to fill in a well-designed, online standard form for recording external impacts (as occasions as influence) which covers the salient details of activities undertaken and immediate feedback received during the year. Each unit’s aggregate impacts file for a year would then represent the sum total of their members of staff’s impacts. The great advantages here are that:

(a) If the forms are well utilised, it should be feasible to comprehensively cover a university’s or department’s impacts (as occasions of influence) and dissemination or applied activities.

(b) Entries would be designed in a consistent way so that they could form the basis for compiling statistics or undertaking quantitative analyses over time and measuring overall performance trends.

(c) Adding a research impacts picture to the department’s or university’s established data on research grants and publications, and on teaching and administration loads, can give a much more complete picture of where resources are going (and where they flow back to the unit).

(d) Academic staff and researchers who undertake a lot of applied work and impacts activities already are likely to be keen to fill in external impacts forms because they have a story to tell that no one has seemed to care about before. Often the most impactful researchers feel that much of what they are doing has to be done ‘on their own time’. They are given a strong institutional message that generating external impacts does not matter to their department or university, and instead counts only as some kind of avoidable distraction from what they ‘really’ should be doing. Stopping and reversing this message is going to be important for departments and universities if they are ever to develop greater external impacts.

(e) If the forms are well designed, it should be feasible to comprehensively cover a university’s or department’s impacts (as occasions of influence) and their current dissemination or applied activities. For instance, in the UK research excellence framework the government body responsible (HEFCE) has told humanities departments that accumulating book sales can count as an external impact because it creates jobs in the publishing industry, and because the sum of books sales volume time price shows how much other social actors have valued one the department’s outputs at. An impacts-reporting form could thus ask staff to give their book sales numbers in the previous year, and totals could be added up across all staff in a department or university (with suitable adjustments for co-authored books).

(f) Consistently implemented external impacts forms across departments could also allow universities or faculties to compare performance, and perhaps either to move resources to favour ‘impactful’ departments, or to learn lessons from them that could help others improve their impacts work.

However, there are also several disadvantages which may explain why so few universities have adopted impacts reporting:

(i) The greatest disadvantage is that academics famously hate filling in ‘unnecessary and bureaucratic’ forms, especially if they do not seem to bear directly on their research, teaching, or other core activities. More ‘red tape’ may generate criticisms of diverting precious time to form-filling. A well designed and easy to complete external impacts form can reduce the wails of protest and resistance but not remove them entirely.

(ii) Tenured academics especially are strongly averse to any measures that may seem to them to build a ‘surveillance state’ in which their university or department knows ever more detail about how they allocate their time. Opponents of impacts reporting will surely raise an ‘academic freedom’ objection – even though there is nothing inherently different in asking people about their external occasions of influence than asking what work they have published in the last year.

(iii) Resistance will typically be greater the less external impacts a given academic or researcher can claim. Researchers working in ‘pure’ areas or those that rarely trigger outside interest may find it easier to fill in an impacts form since they have less (or even nothing) to report. However, they are very likely to perceive a request to report impacts as the first step in a disguised or insidious resource allocation process by the university or department that will look unfavourably on their type of work.

(iv) Annual reporting of current external or applied activities does not do much to address the characteristic demands of ‘naïve’ customers (such as governments or foundations) for evidence of impacts as extended consequences (in terms of outputs, outcomes or social benefits). Nor does it cope with the piling up of influence from successful impacts over time- as the observable economic or social consequences and benefits of research innovations tend to grow slowly over extended time periods as discussed in section 8.2. In its Research Excellence Framework HEFCE allows university departments to claim ‘impacts’ (as extended consequences) from research conducted up to 15 years before the reporting year. (Indeed during the consultation period for this exercise physics departments in England argued that they needed to be able claim ‘extended’ impacts going back 25 years). Universities might therefore have to ask the heads of departments, laboratories and centres to report separately on multi-year consequences – inevitably in more qualitative and varied way.

9.2 Reappraising events programmes

Sometimes strange things happen in the public sector. For many years the UK government has financed spending designed to help the tourist industry attract more overseas visitors to Britain and increase the amount of money tourists spend when they come. Almost all visitors want to come to London, which is one of the most expensive cities in Britain. Yet the British Tourist Authorities ‘Visit Britain’ initiative has long been banned from spending money on promoting London due to political pressure to spread the benefits around more regions of the country. The paradox is that the tourist promotion body actually spends next to nothing on its ‘brand leader’.

For universities similar problem exists in their costly events programmes which cover topical issues and are energetically promoted to outside audiences. But the speakers at these events are overwhelmingly academics from other universities, or non-academic people from different walks of life, such as leading politicians at home and broad, the ‘great and the good’ in business or administration, or literary and artistic figures. In other words, most of the considerable costs and efforts involved go on promoting either competitor universities, or outsiders to the university sector altogether. Universities and departments are mostly publicising everybody but themselves, especially in applied fields where they might have the most impact.

This pattern has grown up largely for internal university reasons but has rarely been systematically evaluated. It is useful for both staff and students to hear talks from outside academics, who may offer different perspectives and new ideas. Attracting prominent academics from elsewhere to speak also confers a kind of reflected glory on university A, or department X, which shows they are an important academic hub or centre of research, and it affords staff opportunities to interact with better-known researchers. The movement of academic speakers around departments and universities also creates opportunities for researchers from university A or department X to give lectures or seminars elsewhere, by creating reciprocity linkages, and sustaining a speaking ‘circuit’ open to their staff.

Similarly it is useful for universities or departments to demonstrate to their staff and students, and also to the local audience who receive their event invitations or publicity, that they are important institutions by attracting top politicians or business leaders. Again the university or department is building its reputation and standing in a very general and indirect manner by providing a venue for an outside speaker and receiving some of the reflected glory. ‘We have important people passing through, so we too must be important’ seems to be the logic, as well as ‘We are a generally civilized place, so perhaps you would like to come to our events, like us, and perhaps even donate.’ There is a good deal of merit behind these rationales; the traditional events-based model has worked well in engaging external audiences, fund-raising for elite universities and maintaining generalised reputations. And of course a good university or department should be a hub of academic exchanges and communication, as we know that tacit knowledge requires in-person experiences.

But as ever, where there are alternative strategies there are also opportunity costs. More specific and targeted publicity (and financial resources and share of prominent time slots for events) could be allocated by the university or department toward promoting and publicising research work undertaken by its own researchers. Such events could help build the overall brand for the department or university in a more direct demonstration way- contrasting with the self-aggrandizement character of most university press releases, newsletters and other updates, which convey little substantive information about what research has been undertaken or what its key findings or methods were. Allocating more resources internally can help better develop the leading brand assets – i.e. the best known, or most read, or most externally influential academics. So it behoves universities to keep their allocation of events resources under review and aim to enrich the mix of events with internal academics explaining their work and approaches rather than only outside academics and non-academics.

Whatever mix of speakers is adopted, the traditional concept of a university event- in which a talk is given to a largely anonymous audience gathered together in one room- needs to be modernised. This core activity remains a useful focal point, largely because of the importance of tacit knowledge and the difficulties of transmitting such knowledge remotely or via educational technologies. However, in addition to the core talk in front of the face-to-face audience, a more integrated concept of an event might include:

  • a post on a university multi-author blog (see section 9.5) ahead of the event which provides a substantive summary of what the speaker will be covering;
  • alternatively the blog post could take the form of a ‘pre-put’ (meaning a precursor or preparation output), which sets up the issues without disclosing the speaker’s answer directly, and provides key context or concepts to bring the audience up to speed (and can be distributed as audience is arriving);
  • an online Web cast or pod cast of the event made available simultaneously to an outside (even international) audience. More university seminar rooms and lecture theatres are now set up to provide this functionality. Alternatively, video cameras are now so small, excellent and cheap that versions of events of at least ‘You-Tube’ quality can be undertaken without special equipment or incurring extra costs, and uploaded to the Internet after only a short lag;
  • a blog post after the event that gives the speaker’s core points and some substantive but accessible illustrations. From here it is very useful to have full links to the author’s full materials on the open Web wherever feasible, since outside audiences may not have university library subscriptions to electronic journals or e-books.

Our vision of an integrated events is clearly multi-media and multi-stage from the outset, aiming to reach a far wider audience and to provide useful materials both for non-experts and those with considerable in-depth understanding of the topic already.

Universities also need to move away from the traditional event-ticketing model which resembles that of railway trains in the 1970s or ’80s, when many ‘open’ tickets were sold for travel on a route, but railway operators had no idea which train people actually planned to travel on (or sometimes even which day they planned to travel). This made it very hard to match train capacity with demand. The university equivalent is that invitations are sent out from many different and uncoallated mailing lists (often a general list for university functions, or a specially compiled list for single department events). Only a small proportion of events have an RSVP or require tickets – often universities or departments run ‘open house’ events for whomever shows up. An audience then materialises in the relevant room at the right time, but the university or department may not know who was there. For the RSVP or ticketed events, someone may check who turns up on the day, but these details are commonly binned as soon as the event is past. They are almost never used in analyses designed to better attract an audience, and even less so the ‘right’ audience for maximising the external impacts of the university.

A fully professional approach to events would involve universities and departments moving to a different paradigm where:

  • Most events are ticketed in a simple and ‘zero touch’ way. For instance, people attending any event can log on to a central university website, give their email address and be sent a unique ticket with a barcode on it, which they are asked to print bring with them. The ticket should have a map and full directions on it. It is very important that at this stage people are not asked to take a lot of time ‘registering’ for the site – if this extra stage is interposed then between a third and a half of them are likely to think better of proceeding and sign off before getting their ticket. Tickets must be available quickly on demand. It is important to remember university or department have put people on a mailing list for a reason and therefore already holds details about them. The needed data should therefore not additionally burden potential attendees.
  • When people come to the lecture, they simply swipe their ticket barcode on one of several portable barcode readers on the way in. (Lecture theatres used for lots of external events might have permanent readers).
  • Tickets should not be needed for internal students or staff; they should just swipe their university cards (which nowadays should all have a barcode). Alumni should similarly have a regular card that they can swipe.
  • The same website used for ticketing should also direct people to downloading pre-puts or other advance publicity, to accessing the blog post related to the event or the full paper being discussed, and to accessing the live web-cast or other post-event materials, like pod-casts. Again people should give an email address only to access these elements.
  • People who come to lectures or events should then be matched with the original database used to mail out details so that the university or department knows who was mailed, who asked for a ticket but then did not come, and who asked for a ticket and did come. In addition, it will be clear which pre-puts, blogs or research paper downloads were made by all the guests who did come.
  • The scale of use of other events elements (blogs and downloads of various formats) can also be measured by looking at those who gave an email address to access them, and those who accessed them via the open web. Where there are a lot of remote users previously unknown to the university, it may be feasible to follow up and find out more information about them, especially if small incentives are offered for giving more details.
  • People who come to several or many events should be identified. Organisations or industries that send several or many attendees or download materials can also be picked out. Targeted approaches can then be made to these regular attendees to become ‘friends’ of the university and to try to elicit impacts evaluations from them.
  • Where appropriate this approach might also form a basis from which to follow up on potential donors and organisations which may wish to have closer relations with the university, department or research group.

A lot of readers at this stage (certainly in British universities) may be thinking ‘in your dreams’ because this set-up described  is very far from being achievable within their current systems and processes. However, we would stress that all the different elements of this picture are already in place in many universities, although very rarely joined up in a systematic way. The ideal is to get to a ‘zero touch technology’ solution as little human intervention by university or departmental staff as possible is needed.  In short, people invited to events or told about downloads are able to get tickets or access materials themselves, while giving just enough information (their email-address) for the university or department to be able to track interactions with them.

9.3 Building improved management of ‘customer relationships’

A much more general problem is that at present universities often only have a partial, fragmented and episodic view of who they are achieving research impacts (as influence) with, or who their external ‘customers’ actually are. We noted in Chapter 7 that much of this information is held as tacit knowledge; that is, in the heads of key staff who may easily move on elsewhere or let their knowledge grow of out of date as their interests change.

In business firms there has been much investment in creating integrated systems for tracking contacts and clients, known as ‘customer relationship management’ (or CRM) systems. These are elaborate (and often expensive) pieces of software which are designed to ensure that information about a customer or potential customer is always logged in a way that can be found and used by other people in the organisation. Knowing what a customer has already bought (or what a potential customer inquired about) is very useful when the firm considers what else they might buy.

The more elaborate and high-end a product or service is, the more worthwhile it may be for a firm to spend money on maintaining information about potential customers or sales targets, which goes beyond simple records of past business. The ideal is that a firm can not only track all its dealings not only with another firm but also with influential individuals within it. The goal is that when a salesperson or any other staff members is contacted by a customer or representative of another firm, the staff member handling the interaction should be able to pull up a synoptic profile of the customer and key information about them- and with a bit more time uncover a full account of their possible needs or sales possibilities. For such a record to be up-to-date it is also vital that staff members who have these contacts log in the details of the interaction to the CRM, so as to expand the organisation’s information base.

Getting CRM systems to work effectively in business is not a simple affair, as looking across all of the firm’s IT systems, its transactions and its myriad of contacts is often very costly and labour-intensive, and may not work as intended. Some (folk) estimates suggest that seven out of ten CRM systems in the private sector do not work as intended. For various reasons some staff members may resist logging customer contacts. Routine staff may not want to take time to complete contact details properly – especially when the contact did not result in a success. Members of a company’s sales force may not be keen to share information they have about potential customers in case another salesperson uses it to tie up a deal for which the original point of contact gets no credit.

Most universities do not have CRM systems. Their chief ‘customers’ are students and potential students. Yet undergraduates in the UK and US have traditionally been viewed as ‘applicants’ (almost as supplicants begging) for limited places by prestige universities, rather than as valued customers. At the graduate level, universities have often developed more of a ‘customer’ orientation and marketing efforts are more extensive and sophisticated at a first contact stage. Information systems for handling students who have arrived kick off from the original application and add mountains of internal information over the course lifetime, usually ending rather abruptly with ‘first destination’ information and sometimes an alumnus contact file being opened. US elite universities retain more contact with their graduates by maintaining a reference bank on them for the first period of year s after they leave. But in Europe and less well-resourced universities there is no such system. Academics write references as individuals, or perhaps departments may have some capacity here, and the details of graduates later career paths are rarely known at university level – except via special purpose alumni information systems (often very sparsely populated with information).

Typically all of these information systems are set up in arcane ways that are highly siloed from each other. Often they can only be utilised by people who are expert in the ways of the departments involved. For instance, an academic writing a reference for a student usually has ask an administrator in their department (who may in turn have to ask someone in the university records office) to undertake a database query to send across a transcript (or even a paper file) for the student involved. Some universities have transitioned to more high-tech systems in which the academic or other teachers can access the relevant records online on the university website directly and then proceed in a straightforward manner to get the information they need to write a reference. Equally, the siloed nature and records orientation of university databases means that although a great deal of information is accessible on an individual query basis, more analytic information about overall performance can often only be constructed by running costly special data-collection exercises. The only easily accessible information tends to come from established statistics requirements or from reports to government or other funding bodies.

When it comes to external research impacts as occasions of influence a good deal of potentially relevant information is scattered around a large number of different units within universites, scattered. Figure 9.1 provides an indicative list of some of the main ‘stakeholders’ here, including eight or nine different sections in the main university administration – the media/press office (often subsumed in broader communications or ‘external relations’ directorates), the research and projects division, the university consultancy arm, the executive education arm or company (if separate), the university main administration, the IT service, the events section, the legal officer. Equivalent faculty administrators are included where they exist as well as the department or research lab heads and their administrative staffs. Finally much of the information involved is held as tacit knowledge in the heads of either department staffs or individual academics or research teams involved in impacts-related research.

Type of informationUnit holding informationExample of applicability to evaluating research impacts
Press and media releases issuedUniversity media/press office; perhaps a media person at department, research lab or faculty level
National or local press coverage of university researchUniversity media office
Media enquiries about different pieces of university researchUniversity media office; Department administrators;
individual academics involved
Broadcast media interviews or use in TV or radio broadcastsUniversity media office;
individual academics involved
Downloads information on items in the university online repositoryUniversity library;other electronic repository operator
Outside (non-university) visitors to library and subscribers to the library services (.e.g. to journals) University libraryEspecially useful for showing the use of university resources by local or regional business, NGOs or public agencies
Numbers of e-mails from government email domain (.gov, or etc);
Numbers of e-mails from specific research user addresses, for instance a given company or agency
Operator of university or faculty email systems, usually IT service
Looking at email volumes to academic staff and department/lab administrators (excluding student correspondence) can document the strength of relationships. Certain ‘confuser’ factors need to be controlled for – e.g. relatives in external organizations, and non-research correspondence (e.g. student references)
Visits to and downloads of pages from university or department websitesUniversity IT service, or Media/Press office; department staffs using Google Analytics
Outside attendees for university or faculty; Events programme and major conferencesUniversity or faculty
Outside attendees for department or research lab conferences, lectures, seminars,Department/lab administrators; Individual academics
External funding of research projects by government, companies or foundationsUniversity research and
development office; departments/labs;individual academics
External funding of equipmentUniversity research and development or consultancy offices; departments/labs
- Individual academics
External consultancy projects for companies and public agenciesUniversity consultancy or enterprise office;
departments/labs; individual academics
Executive education for companies, NGOs and public agenciesUniversity executive
education division or
company; departments/labs
- Individual academics
Other help for companies, NGOs and public agenciesDepartments/labs;
individual academics involved
Projects or internships with firms, NGOs or public agencies undertaken by PhD students, or MBA/MPA capstone project groups etc Relevant programme
administrators; individual academics
Spin-off companies;
Joint ventures with external businesses
University consultancy
or enterprise office;
individual academics
Patents and trademarks submitted;
perhaps also copyright protection cases
University consultancy
or enterprise office;
university lawyers; departments/labs
- Individual academics
‘Hidden innovations’ by companies, NGOs and public agencies with help or advice from researchers Departments/labs; individual academics involved

Most service industry and public sector innovations are business process changes yielding no patentable products
Alumni interactions and donations related to research University alumni relations officeDonations linked to research units, labs or research projects
Fundraising efforts related to researchUniversity alumni
relations office;
university development office
Donations to set up new research units, labs or research projects

Just as existing organisational arrangements are diverse, it is unlikely that there is one ideal structure for collecting, collating and analysing all of this information. Universities differ a lot between ‘Ivy League’ or other top, internationally orientated institutions; larger public universities with a strong regional base, but also national or international ambitions; and universities primarily orientated to achieving research impacts in their own region or city. The information that is collected centrally or at the behest of the university administration (often for governments or other external research funders) will tend to be held as explicit knowledge. But the information that is held by individual academics, and much of the information held at department or research labs, will be held tacitly and hence is normally uncoallated. It can be accessed if someone asks the right questions of the right person, but otherwise it will typically be held for a time (unacknowledged) and then lost.

A key aim of a customer relationship management system is to create opportunities and incentives for holders of tacit information to record it as much as possible in an explicit format (ideally an electronic record of some kind) that can be accessed by people later on and can also be accumulated and analysed with other peoples’ information. For a university this means that the recording system involved must be simple to operate by academics and department or laboratory administrators without lots of extensive training or induction. It must be very speedily filled in and completed (so as to minimise staff resistance to extra ‘bureaucratic’ tasks). Some of the information in Figure 9.1 can be centrally collected – such as press/media activity and interest, web site and blog visits, e-publication download numbers, etc., should be used wherever possible because it is cost-effective and time saving.

Yet a great deal more information by volume will rest with the academics and department or research lab administrators. Here the university or its component organisations must create an incentive for staff to log details or fill in report forms or contact forms. Firms have confronted many of these difficulties and have created CRM-type systems that are simple to fill in, such as systems that can log information in free-text formats but still produce useful materials for analysis. Yet the resistance of academic staff should be much stronger than that found in more hierarchical business firms.

However, there are some groups of academic staff who will have stronger incentives to log research impacts information more readily (perhaps even enthusiastically), especially those who undertake applied work or who have been conducting research impacts activities already – even if their department or university never asked for it. Most people in a workforce (and perhaps academics more than most) like recording successful things that they have done. Whereas until now the impact-related work has generally have gone unacknowledged, there are incentives that departments and universities can offer to academic staff for complying with a basic system for collecting information on impacts, such as:

  • Incorporating impacts-related work in regular university monitoring of staff activities, so that it is officially assigned importance and recognition alongside pure research publications, teaching and administration.
  • Considering impacts-related work (especially fund-raising and dissemination activities) in promotion rounds, and in merit or ‘special effort’ cash or increment awards. For professors (whose income levels are often fixed individually by a review committee of university governors, advising the vice-chancellor or president) it will be important to know that achieving research impacts will matter in their next pay review.
  • Explicitly incorporating impacts-related activities into workload allocations at department or research lab level, which may not happen at present.
  • More prominently including impacts-related work on university and departmental websites; or
  • Setting up a system of prizes or awards to recognise research impacts endeavours and achievements.

These steps can all play a key role in helping to create an organic structure for knowledge growth about research impacts and creating an information base that can guide future development. But this will require strong leadership from top university and department office-holders, who will need to get approved by university committees before they can begin implementing sustainable, impact-related incentive structures.

Given the current state of universities’ information systems about metrics and the poor development of relevant software adapted to the ‘low intensity’ context of research impacts, it seems unlikely that a full CRM system will be put in place in the majority of universities. However, a strategy of using incremental or piecemeal efforts to pool the information resources listed in Figure 9.1 can be a very positive and successful step forward.

9. 4  Moving some version of all closed-web published research onto the open-web

Twenty first century Free is different from twentieth century Free. Somewhere in the transition from atoms to bits, a phenomenon that we thought we understood was transformed. “Free” became Free. Chris Anderson (2004)

The high pay walls that academic journals and academic book publishers place around their content have sparked a great deal of controversy in recent years. On the one hand, most academics want to distribute their research as widely and cheaply as possible, subject to maintaining key safeguards against the theft or ‘passing off’ of copyright materials by businesses or by other academics. Most would chime in with the internet folklore that says ‘Information wants to be free’ and appreciate the strong public interest case for knowledge being universally and freely available. Initially there were many more fears and misgivings amongst academics about safeguarding their intellectual property rights. However, there are now systems in place, especially the increasingly widely used ‘Creative Commons’ license, which provide most academics (except perhaps those operating in strongly commercialised contexts) with all the protection they need to ensure their work is correctly acknowledged as theirs.

Increasing numbers of research funders (such as the Wellcome Foundation) are now demanding that the research they have financed be published on the open web in one form or another. One way is through free-to-view journals which are growing in numbers and reputation in many fields. These journals make their money by charging the authors or research teams who submit materials to get their articles refereed, and if accepted, edited and produced. This fee is one that most scientists and research teams can cover in their initial grant-funding. However, in most academic fields (except IT and computer sciences), the most prestigious journals are still strictly pay-to-view publications either published by commercial publishers or by professional associations. Associations have been a key roadblock to changes in the pay-to-view model because they often rely on journals’ income for much of the funding needed to sustain their professional activities. For instance, one of the leading UK social science associations gets four fifths of its annual income from university subscriptions to its major long-established journals.

Another alternative for open web publication of research is using the online depositories now run by most major research universities. Universities can immediately deposit in the depository any research papers that the funding body has required to be freely available. The university can then negotiate with the publishers of pay-to-view journals and book publishers for the right to either deposit a typescript version of the paper or book manuscript or publish a free-to-view version of the work after a certain time period has elapsed (usually two to five years).

The momentum towards making the fruits of academic research freely available online is likely to get a strong extra push from 2010 onwards because the governments in many OECD countries face a strong public spending squeeze following the 2008-9 global financial crisis and onset of economic recession. Governments and taxpayers are increasingly querying a system of producing and certifying academic knowledge that requires them first to pay to produce the research, and then pay again in the high journal or book prices charged to universities (and everyone else) simply to access the results of research that taxpayers have already paid for.

From a research impacts perspective there are many strong arguments for extending the current very fragmentary and partial availability of research materials on the open Web into a general and invariant policy that the university will make some substantive version of all its research outputs available online in a free-to-view form. We noted above the clear evidence that open access materials tend to be more cited than comparable material behind pay walls. Making an open access version of materials available can help companies, public agencies and NGOs find the right academic experts far more easily, because none of these groups typically have library access to learned journals – and so cannot access or assess materials behind a pay wall. In interviews with civil servants for this project and for an earlier study for the British Academy, officials repeatedly told us that when they need academic advice, especially in social science subject, they are often given little notice or warning by superiors or by politicians and ministers. A need for expert advice usually arises with a tight deadline and hence officials’ first course of action is to use Google to search for the right materials or the right academic expert to approach to explain research issues to them.

A committment to always making available a substantively useful open-Web version of all new research materials can be upheld by a university, department or research laboratory in a wide range of ways, such as:

  • publishing research articles where feasible in open-access journals;
  • placing final versions of articles and books wherever possible in the university’s online electronic research depository;
  • in all other cases placing in the university online depository the last manuscript versions of articles and books;
  • perhaps academics negotiating with book publishers to allow free distribution of a book after a period of years, using a ‘Creative Commons’ license;
  • publishing shorter and accessible research digests of articles and perhaps books, that summarize their content in a useful, substantive and accessible manner – for instance, in a university multi-author blog or in a freely distributed impacts-orientated short-article journal that is also available online.

The overall aim should be that whenever research is intended to be non-commercial and to be widely distributed the university strains every nerve to ensure that a range of readers beyond academia can gain easy access to the core materials. External readers tend to be interested in ‘bottom line’ findings and substantive business or policy implications, delivered in a concise and precise fashion, and they tend to be less interested in methodological issues or purely academic controversies. This reorientation requires that academics change their approach to communication significantly. This effort can also have some strong academic and university synergies.

Communicating more accessibly will also make it easier to disseminate knowledge across boundaries more easily, cutting the long lags that often attend the transfer of knowledge, techniques and ideas across different academic disciplines. This in turn can help maximise the local synergies between otherwise siloed academic disciplines, which we identified in Chapter 5 as the value-added of university-level processes in the development of academic knowledge. An excellent route to all these benefits, as well as increasing direct communication with external audiences, lies through a special kind of blogging which we turn to next.

9.5  Improving professional communication – starting multi-author blogs

The most important contribution of the internet to the organisation of social life is rather neatly captured in a single rather off-putting word- disintermediation. This simply means ‘getting rid of the middleman’. In business disintermediation has meant that customers can now look for relevant information about products or services that was previously known only to service intermediary firms or professionals – for instance, people can book their own flights and holidays instead of using travel agents; they can order cars online from non-local dealers; and they can buy many products directly from manufacturers or from specialised, large-scale internet suppliers. Internet information sites allow far wider product searches and price comparisons than were previously possible. And for original manufacturers there has been a drastic reduction in the transactions costs of reaching customers directly or through a much reduced intermediary chain.

The most important contribution of the internet to the organisation of social life is rather neatly captured in a single rather off-putting word- disintermediation. This simply means ‘getting rid of the middleman’. In business disintermediation has meant that customers can now look for relevant information about products or services that was previously known only to service intermediary firms or professionals – for instance, people can book their own flights and holidays instead of using travel agents; they can order cars online from non-local dealers; and they can buy many products directly from manufacturers or from specialised, large-scale internet suppliers. Internet information sites allow far wider product searches and price comparisons than were previously possible. And for original manufacturers there has been a drastic reduction in the transactions costs of reaching customers directly or through a much reduced intermediary chain.

For universities, disintermediation has been signalled by the increasing importance of online communication with potential students and staff, which has increasingly displaced older means (such as paper prospectuses). Some online teaching provision has begun, although there have been quality and product-character limits on take-up by students, despite the lower costs involved. The internet has also cut the communication costs for universities reaching potential research users, via online depositories and other means of providing open-web access to research materials. It has to be said that most universities rarely devote generous resources to online tools, especially compared with the funding still expended on ‘legacy’ forms of marketing. Their level of investment in their web estate rarely reflects the critical business importance of online course marketing, reputation-building and research dissemination. Nonetheless there has been a substantial change, often driven by staff and student usage, that has forced new patterns of behaviour and interaction onto lagging university central administrations.

In developing their impacts and public communication universities have been slow to adopt blogging and other closely related ‘social web’ techniques (such as using Twitter and Facebook to attract traffic). Although many individual academics and researchers run blogs, and the ‘blogosphere’ itself has become an increasingly important locale for social researchers, blogging by academics has overwhelmingly been seen as a single author, personal activity, and perhaps one that plays only a marginal role in serious modes of academic communication. Few if any university or national libraries are yet collecting or archiving blog contents, for instance, and blogging is seen as ‘unofficial’ and a ‘pastime’ activity by universities.

At one point great expectations were invested in single author blogs in academia as a means of broadening audiences. Many authors have argued that the web offers academics an unparalleled opportunity to distribute their work to audiences previously unavailable to them (Corbyn, 2008). This change was particularly lauded as an uncensored (disintermediated) form of academic communication, allowing instant experiments and wholly personalised forms of academic communication. Some individual academic bloggers have also accumulated large web-based audiences, such as the American Nobel laureate in economics Paul Krugman or the British classicist Mary Beard.

Yet after only a year or two of rapid growth, the single-author blog model seems to have already gone out of fashion and is in rapid decline. Recent estimates suggest that more than 75 per cent of blogs worldwide are either dead or dormant, as authors don’t invest enough time in updating their ‘vanity’ publishing venture. In early days of  political blogging blogs were largely dominated by single author (and often single issue) blogs. This is still the case for a small number of the best-known political blogs in Britain (witness Guido Fawkes), but their apparent American counterparts (such as Glenn Beck) are actually corporate productions. In fact most single-author blogs on American or UK politics are now moribund, while themed multi-author blogs with professional columnists (such as the Huffington Post in the US) and integrated approaches (such as The New Republic in the US or Left Foot Forward in the UK) have roared away. A blog is only as good as its readership – and without consistently strong posts, and an easy way of finding them, there will be no readership.

The chief barrier for academics and researchers in creating their own single-author blogs has been finding the time to run them, which takes time away from their research and teaching schedules. Some may have that luxury, especially people already working in part as columnists or commentators for news media or professional blogsites, such as Paul Krugman. But most will not. This is especially true in England and Wales in the social sciences, since the government announced in late 2010 that it is axing all public teaching funding for the social sciences and perhaps will also squeeze social science research funding by a fifth over the next four years. So many university teachers and researchers are likely to find themselves stretched to the absolute limit by such austerity measures. Who then will have time and expertise to maintain their own individual blog?

An additional problem is that when it comes to blogs, universities and academic departments are often in the electronic equivalent of the Bronze Age in terms of thinking seriously about engagement and what users and readers are supposed to do. In the modern world of web 2.0, RSS feeds, Facebook and Twitter, it simply is not very useful to have a single author blog updated by an academic once a month with whatever thoughts come into her head. This will be about as relevant to the web as a very specialised journal article, and all the effort made in writing and posting will often be wasted.

A few universities have tried to create a combined blog portal for all the bloggers within their community. But with no quality controls this approach is far from guaranteeing much success in communicating the knowledge hidden across academia. For instance, Warwick University runs a complex indexed blog portal which lists over 7,000 different blogs run by staff or students – in combination these blogs include over 140,000 posts. But the Warwick blog portal gives readers little useful information about what the contents of the different blogs are. There are no indications of which blogs are the most popular or timely, nor even a separation of staff and student work. A visitor to the site is not going to know where to start in terms of finding out which blog is which, or in finding ones that have some potential of communicating the university’s research to civil society.

This is a pity because if organised in different ways, blogs can be an important addition to the tools available to universities for expanding their external impacts (as influence) and getting their research better known and used inside and outside academia. We set out the case for a different multi-author conception of blogs that are university-wide, or faculty-wide. Multi-author blogs (MABs) are themed and coherent blogs run by a dedicated editorial team and calling on the services of a large number of authors who may each contribute only a few times a year. This approach means that the blog can always remains topical, with a good ‘churn’ of new posts every day, and can accumulate a great deal of content without imposing a super-human effort on any one author. It can also span across a large enough topic area to attract a wide readership. We review how to set up a blog on these lines and why.

Setting up a multi-author blog. When academics want to write a post, the blog processes need to be set up to help them get material out swiftly, with the blog team handling all the technical issues of posting the material online, as well as ensuring that materials go up in a reasonably coherent blog format. For instance, a central blog team can often provide a much better title and summary paragraph for a post, provide lots of electronic links to relevant material, and ensure that a blog post always ends with follow-on reading or places to go next for readers to learn more. The central blog team will need some detailed style guide that explains to academics how to enhance their readability and impact. It is important to ensure that every article has a narrative title, so that readers can quickly understand what the article is about and why they should read it. Narrative titles can also be easily re-tweeted on Twitter, a potent means of spreading knowledge of key messages. To help public understanding of science and the social sciences it is also very helpful if each post has at least one chart, diagram or photo illustration.

Once the blog post is edited by the blog team and approved by the academic, the actual posting is done by the blog team. Using a Creative Commons license helps share the work across the wider web, while safeguarding key intellectual property rights for the author and the university. The blog team also ensure that regular readers are notified of all new posts via RSS feeds, Twitter, Facebook and other blog-aggregator sites and mechanisms of new and up-dated content (such as the excellent Feedburner programme). The team, working with the university press office and alumni office, should reach out to the widest possible range of readers, ensuring that the blog’s contents are constantly added to university or faculty newsletters and mail-outs. Using the free Google Analytics programme, the blog team can also track in great detail who is reading different blogs, allowing universities or faculties to analyse what topics gets the most interest from which readers, where and when.

The internet is strongly influenced by a culture of reciprocity, and a key part of the blog team’s role is thus to establish and maintain relationships with other groups in their blog’s arena  by asking them to cross link to the university’s material and linking out to other related blogs in return. Linking to other universities, faculties and laboratories is an important way of building a blog’s profile and it can be useful to ask academics from other universities and external practitioners to provide articles. Because multi-author blogs are themed and focus on providing substantive information to readers (not just the kind of self-promoting publicity included in most university press releases), it is important not to be too precious in only drawing from the ‘home’ university or faculty for content. Visiting speakers and researchers are often a useful first port of call here in broadening coverage and alerting colleagues to the blog’s focus and usefulness.

In terms of securing content, the blog team can also act as both a way of regularly and speedily gathering outputs from academics, and then converting them into blog posts accessible to the public and practitioners alike. It is useful to have a ‘clearing house’ stage to ensure that all postings conform to the blog’s style, ‘look and feel’, and the institution’s rules (e.g. key ethics guidelines and avoiding publishing anything defamatory or overtly offensive). Maintaining the best attainable quality of blogs is key. A rather ropey-looking piece can often be improved by simply removing directly normative or prescriptive material, shortening the piece to focus on its key arguments, and linking it to other materials or debates already on the blog or the wider Web. Hence the blog team need to be active editors that can upgrade materials, although academic authors normally need to approve all edits and changes.

The blog team can also monitor the many events and publications outputs that a university or a faculty produces, contact the relevant academics or speakers, and invite them to contribute a blog article to be posted a week or so prior to the event. In some cases where seminars are for private audiences or public policy practitioners (often under ‘Chatham House’ rules prohibiting quoting people directly), academics can write materials post-event to summarise what was discussed.

It is often feasible to convert traditional university press releases into much more substantive and useful blogs, even though press releases are written in a different style to blog posts. Box 9a shows how to make the switch.

Box 9a: Converting press releases to substantive blog posts

  • Change the writing style from third person to first person so that the post is written by the academic and not about him or her.
  • The meat of a press release is usually found in the middle and in the notes at the end. These bits convey what the research actually uncovered and why it is important. Try to lead with that.
  • Either leave out any quotations from the author included in the press release, or if they contain good material or arguments, then rewrite as normal content. Press releases often include ‘self-praising’ material that is best omitted.
  • You will probably have to read at least the executive summary, conclusions and recommendations (if any) of the original report to get a good understanding of the issue. Try also to find any synoptic chart or table that can sum up the author’s finding well, possibly in a simplified form. Give a full link to the original research document in a bit labelled ‘If you would like to know more…’ bit (or some similar label), located at the end of the blog.
  • Try not to clutter up the beginning of the blog with materials like the academic’s professional title and research centre (hyperlinked). They can go in the Contributors details at the end of the blog or on a separate Contributors page, where the author’s key publications can also be linked to.
  • Omit from the body of the blog details of who the research was funded by or any other administrative details like which journal published the research. Links to the actual report or book can be placed at the end of the text. Journals can be hyper-linked to, but member readers without a journal subscription via a university library may not gain access.

The rationales for a multi-author blog. The justification for starting down the MAB route has four key components. First, the key advantage of such blogs is that readers can know to expect an interesting post on your blog tomorrow morning, or if not quite every morning with very regular and predictable updates every week. And so they will come back – especially where the blog development and dissemination is being professionally run.

Second, in any given year academics and researchers across departments and universities will produce a number of written outputs, journal articles, conference proceedings, books and chapters in edited books. They may also often speak at guest lectures, seminars, events or other public discussions, but these ‘outputs’ are often lost after the event, unless recorded by video, podcast, or even in the form of written-up notes or minutes. Equally academics and researchers may react to and discuss a huge number of developments in the public realm –whether in their profession or occupational community, or in wider political, public policy, economic or media contexts. A tiny proportion of these expert and informed responses to current developments may find their way into formal media

  • via academics writing press articles in newspapers or the specialists press;
  • via researchers giving TV and radio interviews;
  • through the researcher being phoned by journalists to give a quote and explain the significance of whatever a particular ‘story’ covered (yet often when academics are consulted they are not subsequently credited by the journalists involved);
  • (less often) through university press releases or web posts on department pages, but this is usually restricted to credit-claiming for any direct department involvement in a good news story; and through individual academics blogging on their individual blog sites.

But most of the expertise of the university in relation to current events and debates will remain stubbornly hidden from public view, never making it onto the open Web and known only to insiders.

Third, older modes of professional communication tend to be too long-winded and pass up opportunities for topical salience. When academics do publish in widely recognised forms (like books and papers) their research can appear rather dated or backwards-looking. In the social sciences, new publications most often describe society or public policy things were perhaps two or three years earlier, when the journal submission or book publishing processes first got started. Yet the same academics and researchers continue having the expertise necessary to react to current developments but just somehow never get the opportunity; most are rarely asked to comment in a public form on contemporaneous developments.

By contrast, in the physical sciences the ‘news cycle’ seems to be quicker, and there are much more vigorous commentaries on scientific, technological and medical developments in themed blogs and even in main scientific magazines. This partly reflects the much better ‘public understanding of science’ orientation in these disciplines and the large audience for understandable news of findings in these fields. At the same time, more news of scientific controversies and occasional scandals leaks into the general media because more of the initial debate gets recorded on the open web and there are simply more science journalists than social science journalists.

Fourth, a multi-author blog that is well-themed, easily findable on the open Web, and well promoted and developed can be a great way to fulfil the key objective noted in section 9.4 of providing an accessible open-Web version of all the (relevant) outputs from the faculty or university involved. In relation to the university’s events programme (discussed in section 9.1) it provides a way of ensuring that substantively valuable materials from the event are widely accessible on the internet for events that only a few people can otherwise attend.

We conclude that multi-author blogs can be an assured way for an academic institution to become more effective in the digital era. We argued earlier in Chapter 5 that universities are important centres of ‘local integration’ across the otherwise highly siloed academic disciplines. Academic or university multi-author blogs (UMABs) should be thought of as a potent new means of achieving similar aims but in a manner that is much more visible to outsider stakeholders and organisations. The first mover universities in any field are likely to reap major gains from developing multi-author blogs. But even second-wave institutions should be able to replicate earlier successes. The internet is not a zero-sum game, and if many universities pitch in to better communicate academic knowledge to wider audiences the result should be beneficial for all.

This is especially true of the social sciences, where better professional communication across may help persuade governments to stop going further along ill-thought through ‘techno-nationalist’ approaches in which only the STEM disciplines (physical sciences and technology) matter in terms of stimulating economic growth. All social scientists need to show that the vast bulk of most OECD countries’ economies is about services and that consequently the social sciences have a great deal to contribute to business, economic prosperity, and of course improving public policy and civil society.

We also believe also there is a huge untapped market for readers of well informed, continuously updated and varied academic blogging. Academics are already writing content and universities already function as huge dynamic knowledge inventories that insiders know about, but the wider public cannot access. So the hard part creative job is therefore already done. Multi-author blogs are a fantastic, easy, and cheap way for academics and universities to get their research out to what is essentially an unlimited audience. We can all benefit from their proliferation.

9.6  Working better in networks

Universities need to be able to work more effectively with the diverse impacts interface organisations discussed in Chapter 5. The key interface bodies – especially consultancies, think tanks and professions – are not going to go away, although their importance may fluctuate a fair amount in different settings. These intermediaries’ roles have grown in prominence for many solid and material reasons. Yet many academics and even top university leaders still repeatedly express doubts about working with such intermediaries, feeling that they tend to take over academic materials give little credit to academics and exploit university research in parasitic ways. Such suspicions can lead to universities behaving in ‘blocking’ or uncooperative ways that inhibit their own ability to develop research impacts or to realise more sustainable development patterns for academic research.

The key to becoming a better network partner (and for universities to get the appropriate credit and reward for their research impacts) is for academics, departments and university officials to have much better information on where their strengths and weaknesses lie, and what the opportunities and threats they face in developing impacts are – i.e., the traditional SWOT analysis. Generating more information on impacts (for instance, by getting academics to keep an impacts file and regularly report their external interactions), and then collating, analysing and updating this evidence will enable universities and departments to understand their strengths and to play to them more successfully. Where universities have tended to lose out in their interactions with intermediaries, this is chiefly because they lacked information and professionalism or failed to protect their strategic assets or anticipate threats to their research advantage or reputation. Once a university or department knows their strategic needs and strengths it can better work in networks around the impacts interface. And universities can also work to by-pass having to communicate with external audiences via impacts interface organisations, through committing to publish all research in a substantive form on the open web and developing multi-author blogs and other means of directly explaining research findings.

These steps will help universities, departments and individual academics and researchers practice ‘tough love’ in their dealings with intermediaries, using them when it is fruitful for cultivating and broadening access to the potential beneficiaries from their research. But these steps will also increase the capacity of universities, departments and researchers to build direct relations with the final users of their knowledge in business, amongst public policy-makers and in civil society. Universities and departments can increase their partnering competency so that outside organisations can easily work with them and understand what researchers are doing and saying. These efforts may result in stronger ‘relational contracting’ competencies in which higher education enhances its ability to be paid for research and to deliver results for immediate application.


  1. Academics should move beyond simply maintaining a CV and publications list and develop and keep updated an ‘impacts file’ which allows them to list occasions of influence in a recordable and auditable way
  2. Universities’ events programmes should be re-oriented toward promoting their own research strengths as well as external speakers. Events should be integrated multi-media and multi-stage from the outset and universities should seek to develop ‘zero touch’ technologies to track and better target audience members.
  3. Universities should learn from corporate customer relationship management (CRM) systems to better collect, collate, and analyse information gathered from discrete parts of the university and encourage academics to record their impact-related work with external actors.
  4. ‘Information wants to be free.’ Publishing some form of an academics research on the open web or storing it in a university’s online depository is essential to ensure that readers beyond academia can gain easy access to research.
  5. Improving professional communication, such as through starting multi-author blogs, will help academics ‘cut out the middleman’ and disseminate their research more broadly.
  6. Academics must realise key interface bodies like thinktanks are not going to go away, Being smart about working with intermediaries and networks can broaden access to the potential beneficiaries of research.

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