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New U-M Institute to Measure Impact of University Research

Government, industry and foundations spend more than $65 billion each year on research at the nation's universities.

by University of Michigan
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The University of Michigan has launched a new initiative at the U-M Institute for Social Research that will coordinate efforts from across the country to provide rigorous measures of the impact of this investment on the economy as well as on scientific progress.

The new Institute for Research on Innovation and Science (IRIS), which officially starts up in January 2015, is a national collaborative that will build the data and tools that will allow researchers, government agencies, policymakers and others to better understand such areas as:

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  • Individual and combined contributions of university research teams: faculty, graduate and undergraduate students, and postdoctoral fellows
  • Economic trajectories of student and faculty researchers in new or existing companies
  • Economic impact on vendors who supply products and services for the university research enterprise
  • Job creation

"Using rigorous social science to explain the public value of research investments will allow us to document the impact of academic discovery and training," said U-M sociologist Jason Owen-Smith, executive director of the institute. "It will also allow us to see where we might improve."

IRIS is an outgrowth of the federal STAR METRICS initiative, which was created by the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation under the auspices of the Office of Science and Technology to create a repository of data and tools to assess the impact of federal R&D investments. It also builds on further work done by a collaboration of researchers from the American Institutes for Research (AIR) and the Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC), a consortium of the members of the Big Ten Conference and the University of Chicago.

Seed funding to launch IRIS as a means of further developing these resources and coordinating research was provided by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. A key initial step will be to build a stable, secure and reliable infrastructure of data for the social science community that can grow and develop over time.

"This funding will allow us to study the full public value of federal, institutional, and private investment in research in unprecedented detail," said CIC executive director Barbara McFadden Allen. "Data and insights from this work will provide a solid base of understanding for a wide range of future policy decisions."

IRIS is organized as a network of collaborating universities, federal agencies, and other stakeholders that will work together to develop and sustain a national resource of data and analytical tools for both scientists and policymakers.

Key partners in the institute include CIC, AIR, Ohio State University, National Bureau of Economic Research, University of Chicago and U.S. Census Bureau. A central interdisciplinary team will collectively define scientific goals, develop a community of scholars engaged in aspects of the research and make material improvements to the core data.

"In the next few years, we plan to expand both our member and user communities," Owen-Smith said. "We would like to see participation from campuses across the country and around the world."