Building capacity in impact evaluation at ELIXIR

As a publicly funded organisation, it is important that ELIXIR provides evidence of its public value. There are a number of challenges involved in what may seem a straightforward task, including the distributed nature of ELIXIR and a range of funders with differing views on public value. A multi-pronged approach has been taken to building capacity through many years of ELIXIR funded work, including peer mentoring, formal training by experts, knowledge exchange events and the provision of tools and worked examples.

Building expertise

Between 2018 and 2020, ELIXIR was a case-study in the EU-funded project Research Infrastructure Impact Assessment Pathways (RI-PATHS), in which economists and impact evaluators worked with research infrastructures to develop an assessment toolkit. In January 2020 an ELIXIR-funded staff exchange was initiated between ELIXIR Nodes in Portugal, Italy and Norway to refine the RI-PATHS impact frameworks for representative ELIXIR Nodes. Project-based research was also carried out by Node members as part of the Executive Masters in Management of Research Infrastructures (EMMRI).

These activities led to the creation of the ELIXIR “impact wheel” which defines the main categories of direct impact for work funded by ELIXIR (Figure 1 and Martin et al.). In 2021 and in collaboration with the EU-funded ELIXIR-CONVERGE project, a new ELIXIR-funded project began to share the knowledge and skills in impact more widely with the Nodes. Sixteen ELIXIR Nodes are involved along with international collaborators from the Australian BioCommons. The aim of the project is to increase the capacity of ELIXIR Nodes to demonstrate and communicate public value to funders and other key stakeholders, contributing to the long-term sustainability of Node-led activities.

Figure 1 -  Main categories of direct impact for work funded by ELIXIR (not shown: Public awareness).

Expanding to the Nodes

The project was launched with a training workshop on assessing the societal impacts of research infrastructures. Participants were shown the importance of understanding the context of each individual research infrastructure and tailoring their own impact framework. The emphasis was on prioritising understanding before measuring impact, and on selecting meaningful and achievable indicators.

Workshop participants returned to their Nodes inspired to devise and carry out their own impact case studies, and, to date, four “Show and Tell” events have been held to share experiences and learnings. Further events will be held in the remaining nine months of the study and the case study results, good practices and lessons learnt will be communicated to all ELIXIR Nodes.

Impact dashboard

In parallel, ELIXIR has also published  a dynamic impact dashboard, which will be expanded over time. It features real-time examples of ELIXIR’s impact, including scientific publications, impact in the policy sphere, job creation and connections made between bioinformaticians in ELIXIR Nodes. 

The publicly available dashboard allows stakeholders to view data behind ELIXIR’s impact and simplifies the collection of impact data in response to specific requests. A related project aims to place impact at the centre of ELIXIR communications by providing less technical evidence in narrative forms such as news releases and more curated material such as standard slide decks.

Building capacity throughout ELIXIR in the evaluation of the impact of is an ongoing journey which will help ensure the continued operation of research infrastructures.

Find out more

ELIXIR Nodes participating in the 2021-2023 impact study

Thu 18 August 2022