Impact

Using Translational Research as a Model for Long-Term Impact

March 21, 2024 512

The concept of translational research originates from the biomedical sciences and clinical practice. Scientists working in these fields adopt a ‘goal-orientated’ approach in their research design. This goal orientation looks beyond the near horizon of the specific research project, or next publication. However, research translation and research impact are not synonymous. Translation refers to what happens to research in its “passage” from academia to users, while impact refers to the outcomes and broader influence generated by research. Impact is too often seen as the end point of a linear process, moving from research to engagement with beneficiary/stakeholders, to the eventual recording of ‘impact’. Translation focuses on the “how” of the research process, while impact focuses on the longer-term outcome of research.

LSE-impact-blog-logo
This article by Gabi Lombardo, Jonathan Deer, Anne-Charlotte Fauvel, Vicky Gardner and Lan Murdock originally appeared on the LSE Impact of Social Sciences blog as “Could translational research be a model for long-term impact in the social sciences and humanities?”

Characteristics of translational research

Translational research implies designing research around principles of interoperability, onward use, and accessibility. Researchers adept in research translation know how to structure their work to support both future application and reverse-engineering. This approach means that researchers consider future dissemination, accessibility, exploitation, and the potential reuse of results at the early stage of their research design process.

In the biomedical field, this would mean planning very early on a project’s regulatory strategy, ensuring that requirements for commercialization (e.g. compliance with regulations, standards, etc.) are met from the onset. For the humanities and social sciences, society is the starting point of the investigation and translational research means the direct involvement of those affected by a study to create a ‘social license to operate’  among the stakeholders.

Translational research also requires a ‘team science’ mindset, entailing collaborative efforts across disciplinary boundaries, extending across multiple research projects and involving various stakeholders over time. EATRIS and the Translation Together global consortium defined seven key characteristics of a translational researcher, which could be adapted to other research disciplines.

This ‘team science’ mindset typically fits with biomedical sciences where there are clear (at least, in theory) pathways from scientific breakthrough, trials, regulatory approval and streamlining towards market access. The journey of translating discoveries into treatments, spanning many years and diverse research expertise, offers a set of foreseeable stages and timelines. This helps guide the planning of steps needed to advance early-stage scientific breakthroughs into practical treatments and their real-world application.

Hallmarks of good translational researchChallenges in the current system
‘Goal orientation’Lack of career incentives to perform translation
Collaboration (‘Team science’)Lack of structural access to key expertise areas
Multi-disciplinaryLong timelines in journey from discovery to application
Rigorous design and executionFunding instruments not always well suited to translation
Part of longer knowledge journey to application
Source: ‘How can we make translational research by design the norm for Europe? Findings from a co-convened workshop in Brussels, April 2023.

The value of translational principles for Social Sciences and Humanities

Can this approach/mindset be usefully adopted by researchers in social sciences and humanities (SSH) when thinking about their own research and its influence in policy making?

SSH researchers are accustomed to being asked to make research ‘impactful’, to ensure that the outcomes and insights of research are visible and usable by stakeholders. But the impact process and its evaluation are too often conceptualized as linear and over a more immediate timeframe; moving from research, to publication, to engaging stakeholders only after the results are published to encourage adoption of insights. Designing interoperability across disciplines, at the start of a sequence of projects, which might follow translational research principles, is less common. However, it is not unusual for SSH researchers to engage with civil society actors or policy makers at the design phase of a project, or in the implementation of a research endeavor, reaching out well beyond scientific peers to achieve a more systematic contribution to a wider audience.

Is it realistic to expect SSH researchers to be more translationally minded when so much of the SSH research ‘ecosystem’ displays very different characteristics to those of STEM subjects? Perhaps the strongest point in favor of a translation mindset is that SSH research is already populated by a wide range of actors, like think tanks and publishers who play a key role in the interface with citizens and at times are better suited for translation, and to aid engagement with non-academic audiences. For example, as part of its support of the White Rose College for Arts and Humanities Fellowship program and its project on value in the humanities, Taylor & Francis is currently exploring the concept of a ‘translatable findings’ element to research that allows researchers to speculate about the benefit and translation of their work by broader audiences, outside of the current research structures and paradigms.

How can we make ‘translational research by design’ desirable for SSH research?

The main challenges for SSH research are a vast variety of users and beneficiaries of research, in the ‘ecosystem’ and less distinct or defined points of final impact, given that research insights can have relevance across a spread of societal challenges. As a result, the SSH research-to-impact ecosystem is less structured than seen in other fields where translational approaches are common. For this to be effective in SSH there needs to be new incentives and support for SSH researchers.

Realigning incentives within institutions to reward translational research is a starting point. There is clear value in cross disciplinary interaction to share learnings and break down boundaries to collaborate, co-create and improve research practices. But in academia the incentives for this are opaque. Research leadership can build links outside of academia and create reward and incentive frameworks to support this new approach. Institutions also have to commit to encouraging and investing in the development of ‘translational’ approaches, not only by incentivizing individuals, and developing wider skillsets, but also through ‘institutional infrastructures’ of support and expertise. Translational research also requires a ‘long-run’ to identify and support the transition between research design, conducting research, results and potential applications.

“Without an institutional infrastructure committed to a ‘translational’ approach, scholars are expected to be product developers, IP experts, and entrepreneurs as well as researchers.”

Without an institutional infrastructure committed to a ‘translational’ approach, scholars are expected to be product developers, IP experts, and entrepreneurs as well as researchers when considering research translation and potential application. In reality, this is the work of a wider team of experts and professionals which institutions need to invest in, creating roles for professionals working in partnership with researchers. From an academic standpoint, this range of expertise is what in SSH could be understood as ‘team science’, drawing together members from research, professionals and stakeholder communities in longer-term collaborative relationships.

Current initiatives, such as the Coalition for Advancing Research Assessment (CoARA), encourage institutions to assess the value of research using a wider spectrum of outputs and activities than just publications. Recognizing the contribution academics make to implementation is an important part of incentivizing behavior change. The European Alliance for SSH (EASSH) will also coordinate a working group focusing on evaluating SSH globally, with the aim to design a common framework for SSH research and its different pathways to impact societal wellbeing.

Gabi Lombardo (pictured) is the Director of the European Alliance for Social Sciences and Humanities (EASSH). She has a PhD in economic history from the London School of Economics and is an expert in higher education, global research funding, and research and education policies. Jonathan Deer is the Director of Research and Enterprise at City, University of London. He is also a current board member on the European Alliance for Social Sciences and Humanities (EASSH). Anne-Charlotte Fauvel is the head of European Affairs at the European Research Infrastructure for Translational Medicine (EATRIS). Fauvel is also a board member of EUPATI, a foundation committed to enhancing patient engagement through patient education. Vicky Gardner is the Director of Publishing Planning at Wiley, a book and periodical publishing agency. She received her education from the University of Oxford and previously served as the Director of Policy at Taylor & Francis Group for over 15 years. Lan Murdock is the Senior Corporate Communications Manager at Taylor & Francis Group. Murdock received her master's in education from the University of Reading.

View all posts by Gabi Lombardo, Jonathan Deer, Anne-Charlotte Fauvel, Vicky Gardner, and Lan Murdock

Related Articles

There’s Something in the Air, Part 2 – But It’s Not a Miasma
Insights
April 15, 2024

There’s Something in the Air, Part 2 – But It’s Not a Miasma

Read Now
The Fog of War
Insights
April 12, 2024

The Fog of War

Read Now
Three Decades of Rural Health Research and a Bumper Crop of Insights from South Africa
Impact
March 27, 2024

Three Decades of Rural Health Research and a Bumper Crop of Insights from South Africa

Read Now
A Community Call: Spotlight on Women’s Safety in the Music Industry 
Insights
March 22, 2024

A Community Call: Spotlight on Women’s Safety in the Music Industry 

Read Now
Coping with Institutional Complexity and Voids: An Organization Design Perspective for Transnational Interorganizational Projects

Coping with Institutional Complexity and Voids: An Organization Design Perspective for Transnational Interorganizational Projects

Institutional complexity occurs when the structures, interests, and activities of separate but collaborating organizations—often across national and cultural boundaries—are not well aligned. Institutional voids in this context are gaps in function or capability, including skills gaps, lack of an effective regulatory regime, and weak contract-enforcing mechanisms.

Read Now
Four Reasons to Stop Using the Word ‘Populism’

Four Reasons to Stop Using the Word ‘Populism’

Beyond poor academic practice, the careless use of the word ‘populism’ has also had a deleterious impact on wider public discourse, the authors argue.

Read Now
Norman B. Anderson, 1955-2024: Pioneering Psychologist and First Director of OBSSR

Norman B. Anderson, 1955-2024: Pioneering Psychologist and First Director of OBSSR

Norman B. Anderson, a clinical psychologist whose work as both a researcher and an administrator saw him serve as the inaugural director of the U.S. National Institute of Health’s Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research and as chief executive officer of the American Psychological Association, died on March 1.

Read Now
0 0 votes
Article Rating
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments