By Stéphanie Bélanger, CD, PhD, and Heidi Cramm, PhD, Co-scientific director (interim), Canadian Institute for Military and Veteran Health Research, with thanks for input from the entire CIMVHR team.
The Canadian Institute for Military and Veteran Heath Research (CIMVHR) was created in 2010 with a mission to enhance the lives of Canadian military personnel, Veterans and their families by harnessing the national capacity for research. Being the only country that was a part of NATO that didn’t have an organization focused on this unique population drove Queen’s University and the Royal Military Collage of Canada to take the lead in creating such an institute. Now 42 Canadian universities strong, CIMVHR is the hub for researchers working together in addressing the health research requirements for our military personnel, Veterans and their families.
As an institute that grew from two universities to 42 in a span of seven years, our methods for assessing the impact of what we do have varied. In our early years, we assessed our impact through the growth of our institute. When you’re the first of your kind in Canada, the success and longevity of your organization will depend on the demand for what you do and the relationships you build to foster your organization. For us at CIMVHR, the key areas of focus were the number of universities that signed on to work with us (from two to 42), the number of researchers committed to CIMVHR from each of these universities (now over 1,000), the growth in delegates that attended our annual Military and Veteran Heath Research Forum (250 to 600+), and the number of research presentations delivered at our seven annual forums (970 to over 3,500 stakeholders), to name a few.
After we had the foundation of our institute in place, we expanded on how we can capture the impact of CIMVHR by incorporating surveys into our assessment process. While still valuing our impact in numbers, surveys provided us with feedback from not only our researchers, but from the population to whom we dedicate our research. Surveying attendees at our academic events provides us with the information we need to strengthen the research at our future events, which in turn creates better outcomes for our military personnel, Veterans and their families.
In order to continue CIMVHR’s success as the hub for military, Veteran and family health research, it became crucial that we assess the impact of our deliverables. Our organization has many moving parts that create various deliverables, such as: academic researcher engagement; publications through our journal (the Journal of Military, Veteran and Family Health); scholarship opportunities; and research contracts through government, industry and philanthropic organizations, among others. Each one of these requires a different approach to assess the impact delivered to our stakeholders. In addition to the previous assessment examples, we found it necessary to incorporate analytics into our process. As a national institute, which recently started working with seven global affiliates, our primary form of communication is web-based (social media, website, online open access journal, funding opportunities, etc.). By gathering the analytics from all of our web-based products we’re able to track our engaged users, reach, top website hits, dropped pages and various other analytics that enable us to make improvements to our organization.
As result of pursuing these various methods of impact assessment since the inception of CIMVHR, we have been able to show our results and thereby grow and strengthen our institute as the leader in military, Veteran and family health research. Moving forward, we will continue to add new assessment methods to increase our strength and develop new tools to track our impacts.
In the recently published report from the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences titled “Approaches to Assessing Impacts in the Humanities and Sciences Sciences” (May 2017), there is great emphasis put on identifying the impact of research to help make knowledge more accessible to users. For instance, researcher can “address important societal challenges” and attract “increased attention from decision-makers in government, resulting in increased use of evidence supported by research in the setting of public policy” (p. 14). At CIMVHR, we thrive, in a concerted effort with our university members, to influence policies and practices through pluridisciplinary evidence based research.
About this blog series: Following the publication of the Federation’s new report, “Approaches to Assessing Impacts in the Humanities and Social Sciences,” we have reached out to other members of the research community to share their thoughts on the challenges and opportunities associated with assessing scholarly impacts. It is our hope that this series of blogs and our new report will help support a productive conversation in the HSS community about the important topic of scholarly impact assessment.