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A VICTOR-y for measuring research impact in the NHS

Published: 10 May 2019

There are clear benefits of NHS trusts taking part in health and care research, beyond the opportunity to offer patients new treatments and provide an evidence base for better care. The literature points to, for example, provision of better processes of care, a culture of improvement, and new collaborations and ways of working. But what does this all mean for an NHS organisation delivering research?

Almost two years ago I embarked on a journey to learn more about the impact of research in the NHS. As Head of Research and Innovation at Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust, I wanted to show the benefits of our Trust taking part in research and to understand how we could capture, learn from and share these impacts.

The first step was joining the Addressing Capacity in Organisations to do Research Network (ACORN) at the NIHR Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care (CLAHRC) Yorkshire and Humber. Through this group, I met people from other trusts who were in the same boat in terms of measuring the impact of research.

We found that there wasn’t a consensus on what NHS trusts could do to measure impacts and how to determine which impacts were most meaningful to our organisations. Some organisations had processes in place for trying to capture research impact; some were still scratching heads about the best way forward. Many of us talked about lack of expertise or understanding about impact, lack of time, and lack of clarity about who should be measuring impact.

We all agreed that we could do something practical to improve this, so we embarked on a project supported by NIHR Clinical Research Network Yorkshire and Humber. Fuelled by plentiful tea and biscuits, we shared examples of where research had made a difference within our trusts. These were things like staff receiving training in new clinical or research skills as part of a study; a new screening tool that had been helpful during a study being introduced for usual care; and working in new and different ways with other departments within the trust. We also spoke to service users who talked quite powerfully about the place of research in their lives and the impact that taking part in research had had on them.

Following these discussions, we wondered if it was possible to develop a tool to count research impacts in trusts, given that impact is often captured in terms of academic outputs. But we felt that impact was much broader that this and decided to pursue a different model. There was some nervousness about not counting things – if you can’t count a publication, input into national guidelines or similar, then what do you do? What if you can’t actually count and quantify impact at all?

Instead we used our examples and understanding of where impact is important to our organisations, and a review of the literature, to create the making Visible the ImpaCT Of Research (VICTOR) tool. The VICTOR tool sets out a framework for capturing research impacts at an organisational level, categorising them in thematic areas that are meaningful and helpful to NHS organisations themselves.

Information is collected by using questionnaires to engage with research participants, professionals, managers and researchers, asking them to identify impacts that have happened in areas that matter to them. These findings are then arranged into six domains in which research benefits organisations: health; service and workforce; research profile and capacity; economics; influence and reputation; and knowledge generation and exchange.

VICTOR doesn’t measure, count or benchmark - instead it captures research impacts and helps to make them visible, so we can tell the story of why research matters in NHS organisations.

There have been plenty of times where I’ve wondered whether it is in fact possible to capture all the complexities of research impact in an organisation. It certainly isn’t straightforward, but our hope is that we have pulled together a practical tool that helps people to identify impact where it matters to the NHS.

We would love you to try using VICTOR in your organisation and to hear about the impacts you have captured. I can’t promise tea and biscuits but I can certainly promise it won’t be dull.

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