Research, Impact, and the Connected Business School

The relationship between ‘Research and Impact’ was a key topic for debate and discussion in our recent Surrey Business School (SBS) ‘Away Day’ in the ongoing and ever-evolving mission to align our strategy with the fast-changing demands of the Digital Economy.

Along with sessions on Internationalisation, Teaching and Learning, and Business Engagement, the Research and Impact workshop conducted by CoDE’s Dr Ben Eaton drew in contributions and participation from across teaching staff, researchers, Professional Services staff, and others for a 360 degree perspective on how our research can impact society for the better, via politicians, policy makers and influencers. In effect, we aim to embed a ‘culture of impact’ in SBS, moving beyond the Research Excellence Framework’s (REF) requirements for Research Impact – ‘demonstrable real-world benefit of research’ — to weave Impact into our research process, and into the fabric of our academic culture.

For example, two recent EPSRC– funded projects awarded to teams at Surrey demonstrate the potential and diversity of Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT) applications:

CoMEHeRe (Co-operative Models for Evidence-based Healthcare Redistribution) aims to transform personal healthcare through design, development and evaluation of DLT for democratising, commodifying and brokering casually-captured personal healthcare data (e.g. from wearable biosensors and the IoT) to public or private healthcare providers. The impact of CoMEHeRe could be unprecedented, creating new and sustainable business models for preventative healthcare, allowing users to maintain control of their personal data, disrupting actuarial science towards real-time, and providing an auditable chain of evidence.

Archangel will deliver long term sustainability of digital archives through new, transformational DLT solutions. These will ensure both accessibility and integrity of digital archives, whilst maximising their impact through novel models of commodification and open access. In practice, this project will help protect Research Dataset integrity, allowing research results to be replicated and proven even decades after publication. With the project partner, The National Archives (TNA), data such as Supreme Court video records will be ‘future-proofed’, allowing the verification of provenance and integrity. The project will also investigate how Delayed Disclosure Public Records can stand on an open verification platform, so the TNA can check integrity during curation, and also prove integrity at release.

Blockchains (or distributed ledgers) are the technology that underpin cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, but their use is not limited to currencies.   They record information in a distributed ledger in a way that is both secure and immutable; by being distributed among many users these ledgers are resilient with no single point of failure, and they can be (depending on design) transparent to all users.   Described by The Economist as “the trust machine”, they provide supply chain transparency and data integrity, allowing a visible assurance of authenticity.

Impact like that set out above needs to become systematic, not just incidental – and it’s this chasm that exercised our workshops recently, as we shared ideas on how we improve and systematise the link between research and impact.

How? By giving researchers the tools that help connect the two: using media training, ‘communicating impact’ sessions, infrastructure, support and network building, we pursue ‘impact by design’ as the elusive but necessary endgame. As one participant put it, ‘We need to play to people’s strengths – to identify the ‘champions’ and learn from them.’ These ‘Impact Heroes’ are changing our world, one grant at a time; can we find a way teach their outcomes and promote their work?

Let us know your ideas.

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About the Author : Kris Henley

Communications and Outreach for Surrey Business School's Centre for the Digital Economy, a newly-founded research centre to explore the implications of the Digital Economy for business, government and society.