Home 9 Blog Posts 9 Librarians Can Help Reframe the Research Impact Conversation

Librarians Can Help Reframe the Research Impact Conversation

by | May 1, 2024 | 0 comments

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By Camille Gamboa, Associate Vice President of Corporate Communications, Sage

When measuring research impact, our industry’s overreliance on one citation-based metric fails to recognize, celebrate, or incentivize academic work that makes an impact outside of academia. To make real change, the entire scholarly community must believe that new ways of recognizing impact are necessary — and beneficial — and must look at what they can do to make change.  

As a publisher, we play an important role in shifting the conversation around research impact. We have signed onto and strive to uphold the recommendations for publishers by the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment, or DORA, but we know that is just one step.

Our most recent move (and the one that, admittedly, I’m most proud of and excited by) was to launch Sage Policy Profiles, powered by Overton. This free-to-use tool enables researchers to discover where their research is cited in policy documents and to easily visualize and share what they find. Since its launch in December, researchers have told us how surprised they are to discover where their work is being used in policy. One research team found nearly 7,000 policy documents citing their work.  

We hope that using Sage Policy Profiles will support scholars who are working to improve policy through their work to showcase to their communities – on personal websites, in front of tenure and promotion committees, and in grant proposals – that their academic work not only influences scholarship but helps build evidence-based policy. Beyond the benefit to the individual, we also hope that Sage Policy Profiles will expand the understanding of research impact from purely scholarly terms to how research shapes policy, practice, and the public.

What can librarians do?

I recently read an article by F1000 that states, “By familiarizing themselves with altmetric tools, creating databases or knowledge articles with research assessment resources, and having conversations with Research Office staff and assessment boards, librarians can ensure their institution is taking a more holistic approach to research assessment.” This is certainly true – librarians are key influencers across the university (and, shamelessly, I hope librarians find Sage Policy Profiles useful enough to share around!). 

Euan Adie, founder and director of Overton (and founder of Altmetric), detailed the important role that librarians play when it comes to Overton-powered tools (like Sage Policy Profiles). 

“We work with lots of academic libraries in three big areas: discovery, impact, and engagement. 

  • Discovery is all about researchers being able to search the full text of the 11M+ policy documents we’ve collected and the curation work we do finding and adding new sources. 
  • Impact is being able to track citations and name mentions in policy at both the individual and institutional levels, and to be able to understand and export that data in a form that’s useful. 
  • Finally, engagement is around helping researchers who want to engage with policy to get started by finding what opportunities are currently active, which organizations they might want to approach, and which of their peers might be open to collaborations.”

While the librarian is notably absent from the list of roles identified by, in conversations with librarians on the topic, I’ve learned that many do a lot to support their faculty in making impact through their research. The more librarians I talk to, however, the more hats I learn they wear and how little time they have to get everything done. Is it too much to expect they can add the “research impact” cap to their hat rack? 

I asked a few directly. Read below to hear what they had to say. 

Leveraging library partnerships

“Because libraries and librarians are at the hub of so many aspects of campus communities and beyond, we have opportunity to provide great infrastructure for faculty researcher engagement at scale. We have and foster partnerships with public libraries, community organizations, online networks, schools, media, publishers, government, industry, museums, and more that can be leveraged as channels for faculty researchers to access appropriate audiences. By further developing and formalizing connections, and channels, (e.g., through event series) at the organizational level, we can provide easy, established pathways for faculty broader impacts, rather than expect researchers to forge these connections ad hoc.” – Darby Orcutt, assistant head, collections & research strategy, NC State University Libraries

Asking the right questions

“Librarians can best help faculty make broader impact through their research by revealing the whole landscape of options. Faculty often reach out to us looking for one specific data point, such as an h-index, a Journal Impact Factor, or an Altmetric score. This is an opportunity for us to help them better understand the metric they’re seeking: is it relevant for their query, what are its strengths and weaknesses, etc. More often than not, this reveals that the metric they’re looking for doesn’t answer the question or make the case they’d hoped. From here, we talk about what they *want* to say about their research and how they would describe and measure its success. This usually paves the way for a conversation about thinking and planning for societal impact, exposing them to other frameworks and rubrics that look at societal impact, and beyond.” – Becky Welzenbach, research impact and information science librarian, University of Michigan Library

Build it into strategy 

Showing administrators, marketing and communication professionals, and other stakeholders who measure and promote institutional research how societal impact can be measured, described, and even benchmarked using altmetric data gives them the tools needed to advance societal impact and communicate impact success. At our university, Altmetric is part of a strategy to improve policy impact across campus while giving us tools to showcase impactful research. – Rachel Borchardt, scholarly communications librarian, American University

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