Monday, October 22, 2012

How to meaure economic impact of R&E Networks and Cyber-infrastructure

[One of the major challenges for government is to measure the economic impact of academic research.
In terms of research impact there are the usual standard indicators of citations, papers published, patents filed and number of graduate students. But governments and funding agencies usually want to measure direct economic impact in terms of jobs, new businesses and commercialization of research. Although there are a number of programs to promote commercialization of research the impacts and outcomes, to date, are a best a mixed result. There is a lot of hand waving as to the actual number of jobs and business opportunities such programs have created.
An alternate approach to measure the impact of academic research was undertaken by MIT which measured the economic impact of companies founded by MIT alumni, based on one of the largest surveys of entrepreneur alumni ever conducted. It was estimated that at the end of 2006, there were 25,600 active companies founded by living MIT alumni, employing 3.3 million people and generating annual world revenues of nearly $2 trillion. This group of companies, if its own nation, would be the 11th-largest economy in the world.
See for more details.
This approach of measuring impact reflects the well known truism that the biggest transfer of knowledge from academia to industry occurs once a year at graduation. Another good example is a landmark study undertaken by University of Toronto researchers which showed that the adoption and growth of the commercial Internet was driven in early stages by recently graduated students who had been exposed to the benefits of the Internet at their respective universities and community colleges. “The (Teaching) Role of Universities in the Diffusion of the Internet”

Measuring the economic activities of students who have been exposed to the latest research developments is probably the most effective way of understanding the impact of academic research. But other than the MIT and UoT studies few other research organizations have undertaken such a methodology to measuring the impact of academic research. There is no question it would be a difficult and expensive undertaking to locate past alumni and determine their contributions to society not only in the creation of new businesses but also indirectly in the improvements they make to companies they may work for. However, with new social networking tools like LinkedIn, ResearchGate, etc combined with academic collaboration tools such COmanage or SURFconext it may be possible to develop apps that cross reference entrepreneurial outcomes with sources of inspiration of academic research. This is a classic “Big Data” challenge.

This approach would not only measure academic research impact but also the contributions made by research networks and cyber-infrastructure, which are often forgotten in the larger scheme of things. It must be noted that most of the major contributions to the Internet such as Google, Facebook, etc were by students at universities and in dormitories who had access to the early unfettered Internet. -- BSA]

R&E Network and Green Internet Consultant.
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