A study commissioned by the Australian Research Data Commons (ARDC) has identified clear public value delivered through research data, including life-saving treatments, more efficient business and government services, more effective environmental practices and improved educational outcomes. Findings from the research show that many of the positive benefits generated by research could only be developed with research data. The direct benefits of research data are most commonly used by professionals, government, policymakers, and industry. These benefits are in turn shared more widely in the form of improved public services, consumer products and healthcare, to name just a few of the many identified impacts.
This new study shows that research data alone is not sufficient to create positive impacts. Strong interventions such as analysis, curation and product development are required to leverage the broader value of data for business, government, professional services and direct use by the public. These value enhancement activities bridge the gap between research data – which might otherwise go unused – and the diverse range of potential benefits for the society and economy that those data can deliver.
The study also shows the importance of active planning, coordination and collaboration between researchers and other organisations to achieve impact through research data. Specifically, closer links between universities, government, and business are needed to realise the benefit of research data as a managed and shared resource across sectors.
In 2019, the ARDC commissioned the Institute for Methods Innovation to investigate how research data contributes to non-academic impacts, that is, social, economic, environmental, cultural, health and other benefits beyond academia. This is an ongoing collaboration between the ARDC, the Australian Research Council, the National Health and Medical Research Council, the Department of Education (NCRIS Program), and the Australian Data Archive. In the first phase of this work, impact case studies from the UK’s Research Excellence Framework (REF) were used to test and refine the underlying analytical method. In the second phase, Australian case studies drawn from the ARC Engagement and Impact Assessment will be used to investigate how Australian research data in particular has contributed to impact.
The report and the underlying data of the first phase of this work are available here. This work is of interest to those who could work with and use research data to develop positive social, economic, environmental, cultural and health impacts. It is also of direct relevance to those with responsibilities in institutional and government research data strategy and policy, research impact management, and research data management and operation. In sum, the research highlights the pathways to develop even more public benefits from research data.