Societal value creation of research

An important part of the research policy at Ghent university is to stimulate and reward societal value creation of research. In order to meet this objective, a specific policy plan was drawn up in 2015.

Context

(Societal) Value creation (in Belgium and the Netherlands often referred to as ‘valorisation’) is the process of creating an added value to scientific knowledge and expertise outside the realm of science. If the created added value is aimed at or is of specific importance to a community of external stakeholders (ranging from the general public to very specific groups of stakeholders) the value creation is deemed ‘societal’.

In its mission to stimulate and incentivise the contributions of Ghent University’s research community to society, the university drafted a policy plan (which acts as a partner to the Strategic Plan for the Industrial Research Fund Activities 2014-2018 which has economic value creation at its core).

The policy plan puts forward an approach:

  • Which is relevant to all fields of science
  • Which respects basic fundamental research
  • Which takes into account the individuality and talent of researchers
  • Which recognises societal value creation as an iterative process: from the initial research question to the methods used and the dissemination of the results

The policy plan focuses on:

  • Putting forward a framework for quality assurance and assessment (rather than an exercise of bean counting by way of quantitative indicators) via a description of the most common types of societal value creation
  • Creating an academic environment within Ghent University conducive to societal value creation via a set of actions

A different approach

Societal value creation is a process that can lead to societal impact. It may be inserted throughout the entire lifecycle of research: it can be a specific goal and/or output/outcome of a certain research project; it may be the consequence of (strategic) networking but it may also be ingrained within the overall research attitude.

Scientific research, its implementers and its stakeholders exist in many varieties, each with their own needs and particularities. Societal value creation is not a matter of 'one size fits all'. There are many types of societal value creation activities or pathways:

  • Science communication: popularised (scientific) contributions (books, social media, encyclopedia), public lectures, podcast, science cafe/bar, explanimation and infographic, Children's University, ...
  • Contribution to public debate: expert opinions, think tanks, awareness campaign, exhibitions, ...
  • Participatory research: citizen science, living lab, action research, co-creation & co-design, stakeholder engagement, ...
  • Policy influence and advice: legislation and legal interventions, relevant memberships, endowed chairs, public tenders, ...
  • Service to society: expert opinion and consultancy, shared research infrastructure, training, handbooks and guidelines, online tools and apps, ...

In order to assess, stimulate and further develop societal value creation it is important to define and make visible the impact or results this process produces. This might be achieved by introducing a new approach that deviates from rather classic routines, which mainly focus on output and quantification. An expression by way of purely quantitative indicators (e.g. within an allocation model) will hardly do justice to the intricate nature of value creation and impact nor to the creativity involved. Moreover, both the time aspect and an unambiguous, individual allocation of results and achievements present particular challenges. Although one can sometimes speak of a demonstrable impact of societal value creation activities, one will not always be able to grasp this in a purely quantitative description at a specific moment in time.

Planning and evaluating societal impact

Actions

Contact

Research Department - Policy and Quality Enhancement Unit
Esther De Smet

Information in Dutch