In 2022, working with its Health Research Impact Committee, National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) developed the NHMRC Research Impact Position Statement.
On this page:
- Our role in the health innovation system
- What is research impact?
- Why is impact from health and medical research important for NHMRC?
- How do we foster, promote and evaluate research impact?
- How does impact from health and medical research achieve NHMRC's mission?
- Future steps
Our mission is 'building a healthy Australia'. To this end, NHMRC aims to foster, promote and evaluate impact of the health and medical research that it funds and the health guidelines that it develops and endorses.
The purpose of this Research Impact Position Statement is to describe our role within the broader health innovation system in generating research impact.
The primary target audiences for this document are:
- the people of Australia
- the Parliament of Australia
- researchers and research organisations
- Government, private sector and non-government health-related and medical sector professionals and their organisations
- Australian and State Government departments, agencies and employees.
Our role in the health innovation system
We play an important role within the health innovation system and it operates alongside other organisations, such as research institutions, investors and regulators, that play equally vital roles. The relationship between research and impact is often indirect, non-linear and not well understood and depends on complex interactions and collaboration across the health innovation system. An example of a logic model framing some of the main ways that our work contributes to impact is shown at Table 1. This model is described in greater detail in NHMRC's Evaluation Strategy. It is important to note that evaluating research impact is an evolving field with no gold standard method and many evaluations are not able to capture the multifaceted, complex and long-term benefits arising from research1.
|1. Inputs||2. Activities||3. Outputs||4. Outcomes||5. Impacts|
|*All stages in this model can provide feedback to earlier stages.|
||Investment||Grants for research and researchers across the health and medical research spectrum||
What is research impact?
We define the impact of research as the verifiable outcomes that research makes to knowledge, health, the economy and/or society, and not the prospective or anticipated effects of the research. Impact is the effect of the research after it has been adopted, adapted for use, or used to inform further research. Research impact also includes research that leads to a decision not to use a particular diagnostic, treatment or health policy.
Impact can arise from such outcomes as changes to knowledge paradigms, policy or practice, the development of commercial products (for example, drugs, devices) and changes to other systems that affect health.
What are the major types of research impact?
We recognise 4 types of research impact, as follows:
New knowledge demonstrating the benefits emerging from adoption, adaption or use of new knowledge to inform further research, and/or understanding of what is effective.
Improvements in health through new therapeutics, diagnostics, disease prevention or changes in behaviour; or improvements in disease prevention, diagnosis and treatment, management of health problems, health policy, health systems, and quality of life.
Improvements in the nation's economic performance through creation of new industries, jobs or valuable products, or reducing health care costs; improving efficiency in resource use, or improving the welfare/ well-being of the population within current health system resources. An economic impact may also contribute to social or health impacts, including human capital gains and the value of life and health.
Improvements in the health of society, including the well-being of the end user and the community. This may include improved ability to access health care services; to participate socially (including empowerment and participation in decision making) and to quantify improvements in the health of society.
Why is impact from health and medical research important for NHMRC?
NHMRC has existed in various forms since it was first established in 19262 as the Federal Health Council. At that time, the functions of the Council were:
To advise the Commonwealth and State Governments on health questions generally, and as to measures which should be adopted for the co-operation of Commonwealth with States, and of States with States, and for the promotion of uniformity of legislation and administration, where advisable, in matters concerning the health of the people3.
At the first meeting of the National Health and Medical Research Council4, in 1937, the Minister for Health5 stated that the Council was established:
… to promote the health of the people of Australia, to protect them from disease; and to advise, co-ordinate and direct research into the cause of, and cure for those diseases …6
When NHMRC became an independent agency governed by the National Health and Medical Research Council Act 1992 (NHMRC Act), the agency was required to pursue activities designed to:
- raise the standard of individual and public health throughout Australia
- foster the development of consistent health standards between the various States and Territories
- foster medical research and training and public health research and training throughout Australia
- foster consideration of ethical issues relating to health.
While the language of 'impact' is comparatively recent, these statements demonstrate that NHMRC is intended to have a specific impact, being the improvement of health in Australia.
How do we foster, promote and evaluate research impact?
As noted above, the NHMRC Act sets out the types of activities that we should pursue in order to generate impact. These activities are set out in more detail in our annually updated Corporate Plan.
The Corporate Plan states our mission and sets out our strategic themes and purposes, which are shown in Table 2.
|Function||Fund high-quality health and medical research and build research capability.||Support the translation of health and medical research into better health outcomes.||Promote the highest standards of ethics and integrity in health and medical research.|
|Purpose||Create knowledge and build research capability through investment in the highest-quality health and medical research and the best researchers.||Drive the translation of health and medical research into public policy, health systems and clinical practice and support the commercialisation of research discoveries.||Maintain a strong integrity framework underpinning rigorous and ethical research and promoting community trust.|
We administer a variety of research grant schemes that aim to generate impact. These are:
- Investigator Grants, which provide researchers at all career stages with both fellowship and research support, giving the investigator flexibility to pursue important new research directions as they arise and to form collaborations as needed, rather than being restricted to the scope of a specific research project
- Ideas Grants, which support innovative and creative research, undertaken by researchers at all career stages, and in any area of health and medical research, from discovery to implementation
- Clinical Trials and Cohort Studies Grants, which support high-quality clinical trials and cohort studies that address important gaps in knowledge, leading to relevant and implementable findings for the benefit of human health
- Synergy Grants, which support multidisciplinary research that addresses major problems in all areas of human health and medical research, from discovery to translation
- Centres of Research Excellence, which aim to improve health outcomes, develop capacity and promote or improve translation of research outcomes into policy and/or practice
- Partnership Projects, which create opportunities for researchers and policy makers to work together to define research questions, undertake research, interpret the findings and implement the findings into policy and practice
- Development Grants, which support health and medical research at the proof-of-concept stage that specifically drives towards a commercial outcome within a foreseeable timeframe
- International Collaborative Schemes, which provide assistance to Australian researchers to participate in collaborative research projects with international researchers through bilateral and multilateral arrangements
- Targeted Calls for Research, which support research to address a specific health issue where there is a significant research knowledge gap or unmet need
- Postgraduate Scholarships, which support outstanding health and medical graduates early in their career to conduct original, internationally competitive research in Australia.
We introduced a framework to guide the assessment of an individual's research track record in applications for Investigator and Synergy Grants. In future it may be extended to our other grant schemes.
The framework comprises three key elements:
- research impact
Research Impact is focused on the impact of the applicant's past research and may be demonstrated across the four domains of knowledge, health, economic and/or social impact.
We undertake a variety of translation-related activities including:
- funding the full spectrum of health and medical research (as outlined above), including many projects and some specific schemes that involve translation activities
- developing health guidelines that translate research evidence into recommendations for public health and environmental health, and endorsing high-quality clinical practice guidelines developed by other organisations
- accrediting Research Translation Centres, which bring together researchers, healthcare providers, education and training to improve the health and well-being of patients and the populations they serve
- funding of Cochrane Australia to produce high-quality, relevant, up-to-date systematic reviews and other synthesised research evidence to inform health decision making, and to make this evidence accessible.
Our other activities and policies that support impact generation and promotion include the following:
Heath Research Impact Committee
The NHMRC Council, Principal Committees and other advisory groups are valuable sources of advice, insight and connection to other sectors as we seek to understand and increase the value and impact of the research it funds. This focus has been strengthened by our new Health Research Impact Committee (HRIC), appointed for the 2021–2024 triennium. HRIC advises on policies and strategies to promote, communicate and measure the impact of NHMRC-funded research, as well as strategies to facilitate research translation into clinical, public health and commercial outcomes.
NHMRC Evaluation Strategy
While the measurement of research impact is challenging, we are legislatively required to track and report on the public benefits of its investments in research and other activities over time. NHMR's Evaluation Strategy (PDF 1.2 MB) (Strategy), published in December 2021, provides a framework and example of a logic model that links our inputs, activities, outputs, outcomes and impacts to reporting and evaluation mechanisms. The Strategy also helps to ensure that we continue to improve its efficiency and effectiveness in undertaking its core business activities and its reporting and evaluation.
Communications and evaluations
We directly influence the public's, researchers' and policy makers' attitudes and understanding, through channels such as:
- 10 of the Best
- grant scheme factsheets, datasets and announcements
- Impact Case Studies
- Research Excellence Awards
- Research Translation Symposium
- InFocus media articles
- social media announcements and researcher profiles (for example, through Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram)
- video case studies.
How does impact from health and medical research achieve NHMRC's mission?
Impacts from health and medical research can be significant and far-reaching in improving the health and well-being of the Australian community. However, the relationship between research and its impact is often indirect, non-linear and complex. Typically, the impact arises from a body of knowledge that incorporates many threads of research that have occurred over a long period of time. Many other enabling factors (for example, new incentives, adoption or changing attitudes) are also required, without which the impacts would not be realised. Examples of critical steps in pathways from research to impact include, but are not limited to:
- paradigm shifts in understanding of biological processes that underpin health and disease
- changes to public policy
- changes to clinical and other practices
- changes to systems that affect health
- development of new health and medical products and services (for example, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, diagnostic services, software and biotech materials).
The benefits of such changes include, but are not limited to:
- improvements in disease prevention, diagnosis and treatment
- reduction in mortality and morbidity
- evidence-based improvements to health care practices or systems that affect health
- reduction in health risk factors for, or improvements to, health-related behaviours of individuals and communities
- improvements in access to health care services
- improvements in consistency of care
- improvements in patient empowerment and participation in care delivery
- commercialisation of scientific discoveries that improve health and contribute to the economy
- demonstrations of how research collaboration with end users can provide outcomes relevant to end users
- demonstrations of the value for money of research outcomes and outputs
- improvements to the social well-being, equity or social inclusion of individuals and communities
- creation of health-supportive environments.
We will continue to work with organisations in the health and medical research sector to:
- develop policies and strategies to foster impact from NHMRC-funded research
- ensure research is relevant and supports end user needs
- understand how we can identify and support impactful research
- evaluate the impacts of NHMRC-funded research
- understand enablers and barriers to impact
- promote the benefits and long-term impacts arising from NHMRC-funded research.
Any questions about this information should be addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org
1 Reed, M. S., Ferré,M., Martin-Ortega, J., Blanche, R., Lawford-Rolfe, R., Dallimer, M. and Holden, J. (2021) Research Policy 50 (4), 104147
2 Specifically, by Order in Council, on 23 November 1926
3 Report of the Federal Health Council of Australia, First session held at Melbourne, 25-28 January 1927, p4
4 Established by Order in Council on 24 September 1936, replacing the FHC
5 William Hughes, later the 7th Prime Minister of Australia
6 Report of the National Health and Medical Research Council, First session, 1-3 February 1937, p3