Executive Director, Research & Innovation Services, York University

Canada has long been a leader in scholarship on knowledge translation/mobilization and we now are among the few countries investing specifically in the practice of knowledge translation/mobilization to help maximize the various impacts of research. And we’re doing it for the right reasons.

When you look globally, there are lots of examples of investments seeking to maximize the impacts of research by supporting knowledge mobilization/translation activities. KNAER is an excellent example of funding for knowledge mobilization and for connecting research evidence to its use by non-academic partners including schools, school boards, the Ministry of Education, and non-profit organizations. But where are there national systems of research impact around the world?

global research impact map

  • REF is the UK Research Excellence Framework . It is a system-wide impact assessment exercise that introduced impact into the 2014 exercise and will be repeated in 2021. In addition to impact (25% of the total REF score), REF includes an assessment of research excellence and of the institutional research context.

  • The SEP is the Standard Evaluation Protocol in the Netherlands. It is an institutional self-assessment system where institutions assess on research quality as well as impact.

  • The Australian Research Council conducts not only the Excellence in Research Australia but has moved the Engagement and Impact pilot into a system-wide Engagement and Impact Assessment .

  • While impact is an optional element of New Zealand’s Performance Based Research Fund , researchers can describe the impacts their research has made while also articulating the academic impact of their research.

  • Development Research Uptake for Sub Saharan Africa ( DRUSSA ) is a collaboration among 24 African universities investing in research uptake (their equivalent to knowledge mobilization) so that university research could benefit local communities. It was funded by overseas development funding from UK DfID and managed by the Association of Commonwealth Universities.

  • The National Alliance for Broader Impacts ( NABI ) is funded by the US National Science Foundation to support the development of research impacts. The Missouri Connector has expanded beyond NSF grants in STEM disciplines to support connections between researchers and society in all disciplines.

  • And finally, back home in Canada, while we have many examples like KNAER, we also have a national research impact network, Research Impact Canada, a network of 17 universities investing in supports and services to create the conditions for impact. 

That’s a nice international list but so what?

What is interesting is the drivers behind each national system. The research impact systems in the UK, Netherlands, NZ, and Australia are assessment driven systems. Universities are required to articulate the impact that researchers are making which for the UK and NZ drives additional funding. This creates incentives but also pressures and the potential for gaming the impact system .

For universities in Canada, the US, and Africa, the impact “agenda” is mission driven, not assessment driven. In these countries universities are creating the conditions for research impact because it aligns with the mission of the institutions not because they are required to do so by a top down, government driven directive.

What does this mean? In Canada it means we focus on how to create impact and less on articulating what impacts have occurred. In Canada it means that fundamental research can take place with only scholarly impact as the goal. It means that disciplines like cosmology, mathematics, philosophy, etc., can be undertaken with a view to discovering new knowledge without needing to engage the research for impact. It also means that where research might have an impact (like education research), universities are stepping up to help (hosting organizations like KNAER).

But it also means in Canada, we don’t have good tools to assess the impact of research. We have lots of anecdotal practice but no validated instruments to collect and express the evidence of research impact. This creates a gap in our ability to demonstrate that public investments in research are making a difference to Canadians. That’s a gap that Research Impact Canada is seeking to address. We have made some significant changes to the UK REF 2014 impact assessment guidelines and case study template and added a semi structured interview guide derived from Contribution Analysis. Currently, York University’s Knowledge Mobilization Unit is working with Kids Brain Health Network to pilot this tool.

Stay tuned to the Research Impact Canada blog for more information as we release the results of this pilot.


Dr. Phipps manages all research grants and agreements including knowledge and technology transfer for York University. He has received honours and awards from the Canadian Association of Research Administrators, Institute for Knowledge Mobilization and The EU based Knowledge Economy Network. He received the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal for his work in knowledge mobilization and was named the most influential knowledge mobilizer in Canada. He is the KT Lead for Kids Brain Health Network and Network Director for Research Impact Canada.