The importance of impact and research data infrastructure

Victoria Moody

In the post we talk to Dr Victoria Moody, Deputy Director and Co-Investigator at the UK Data Service about her career in research and impact and why impact should be something all researchers plan for. 



Before joining the UK Data Service, what work and research were you involved in?

I’d been working at a university, working on the Research Excellence Framework, which is the periodic review of research in the UK. I was very interested in how impact had become part of the research landscape and in 2014, it was a fairly new area for research. I worked across the university with researchers to develop case studies about their research. This included reaching out to the communities, groups and organisations that directly benefitted from that research and then asking those partners to corroborate that impact and say, “yes, this research changed how we understand our business, how we work with communities etc.” So that role was where I came back into research after working in a range of public sector roles previously focused on data governance, policy and strategy development.

How did you end up working for the Service?

The job came up at the UK Data Service in 2014 and this was an impact director role, and I thought it was exciting to see the twin areas of interest that I had, data and impact, combined. I had spent time working around impact across different research disciplines and developing data infrastructure and policy in government roles, and I really wanted to focus in on the data side of impact. It was a very forward-thinking role, and it was really exciting because we were working not only with helping people use the data and have impact from the data, but really looking at how the UK Data Service as an investment of public funds was really understanding and changing policy, supporting analysis, supporting people. I was keen to be able to support that and to really understand how it could be expanded and how we could reach as far into the research and policy landscape as possible to be able to help people use the data.

What have you seen change in the area since you started working for the Service back in 2014?

I think my viewpoint has changed because I’m doing a slightly different role. I’m co-investigator and deputy director of the UK Data Service, which means that I support the broader service strategically.
The co-investigators and the principal investigator get together as part of a strategic leadership group, and we oversee the progress of the service and support our funders, Economic and Social Research Council and stakeholders to develop our strategic direction to meet the needs of researchers. We also need to ensure the technical infrastructure is in place so that the data are preserved for the long term. It’s about forward migration, making sure that we are always looking to the future. Technology changes so fast and we have to keep pace. A lot of institutions were innovating in technology over the decades and have been coming up with amazing technical platforms, processes, standards and approaches. But we see technology growing everywhere now and we see the need to make sure that we are able to access and utilize technology innovations to work much more effectively in the round. For me that’s a real change.

How important is it that researchers consider impact, in all its forms, during each phase of their projects?

I have always been of the view that all research has impact, even research that isn’t set out with a defined impact plan. Impact is the change we’re going to make in the world. Research is how we understand the planet, people, systems, economies, culture, how people live etc.

However, I think it’s always worth having an impact plan at the outset, certainly thinking about the engagements that are possible, about the connections and the partnerships etc. are all positives. But we also need to have space for the “blue sky” research, the research that isn’t necessarily tied into a specific goal because research can take interesting directions.

I think one thing I’d like to see more of, and this would be my tip, is citation. I think the more we use persistent identifiers in some of these spaces, the more effective it’s going to be to be able to ensure that people can find go back, look at the data and find how it is used and the impact it has. Data is a key output and is a real strength and I think that’s becoming a focus. So even code and methods, how are they offered to the wider ecosystem for reuse?

What unexpected impact have you seen in the past?

There are so many ways in which the UK Data Service data has changed things through its impact. Things like the national minimum wage, the impact of second-hand smoke in the UK, the development of  indicators of poverty and class mobility, and the Lancet Countdown, making climate change a public health emergency.

When it comes to unexpected outcomes, the importance of 2011 Census aggregate data in understanding the impact of the pandemic jumps to mind because that wasn’t an anticipated outcome at the time of the collection of the data. It’s often the unanticipated importance of these data. When there is a shock, these data can help understand how to respond.

Knowing these data are important is one thing. Knowing that they’re useful in a range of research projects is another but knowing that these data are critical to responding to something like a pandemic, to help understand the effect on populations and communities, is another thing entirely.

The 2011 census data was used a lot from January 2020, right through to now. So, the new Census 2021 and 2022 data that’s coming out adds to that canon of knowledge. In the Service collection we make available open Census aggregate data from the four nations of the UK from 1971 up to 2021 (and are ready for Scotland’s census aggregate data to be available this year), which is unique. I think it’s critical that that we maintain that stability, for data to be able to be called on for unanticipated use cases.

One of the things that I see is the Service’s long-term impact. Given that, in one form or another, it’s been going for well over 50 years, in a way it’s a witness to society. It’s a core sustainable route to understanding the changes and the pressures and the ways in which we need to respond to those changes and pressures in society.

About the Author

Victoria is Director of higher education and research at Jisc. Her role focusses on the delivery and implementation of Jisc’s higher education and research strategic themes, supporting Jisc to deliver a sustainable support and services across higher education and research supported by diverse revenue streams and partnerships. It involves senior engagement across Jisc, and with higher education, research and professional leaders in the UK and internationally. She is also co-investigator and deputy director of the UK Data Service.

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