María José Aranguren, Patricia Canto-Farachala and James R.Wilson
Research Evaluation, rvaa030
English // Keywords: Social impact; regional development; universities; Spain
Public and private research funding to academic institutions is increasingly conditional on demonstrating societal impact. Research is expected to produce new knowledge that is both relevant in academia and of direct practical use in society. Universities are well placed to serve as links between global academic communities and local problem owners. However, playing this pivotal role is problematic because in practice there is a tendency to frame the dual role of producing socially relevant and academic knowledge in terms of an artificial distinction between applied consultancy and basic research. Considering the challenges faced by universities in playing a more proactive role in addressing the practical challenges faced by their home regions, we propose the term transformative academic institutions to refer to research centres created within universities to proactively engage in the socioeconomic development of the regions in which they are rooted. We propose an experimental framework that can help map the relationship between their role in a global academic knowledge community and their role in the (local) practical knowledge community. The framework is developed from on our own experience working in an academic institution that conducts research to strengthen regional socioeconomic development processes. We experiment with the framework through an application to our own research context in the period 2016–19. Our findings show that this relationship can be mapped by assessing: (1) how well academic research questions are aligned to themes identified in regional policy discourse; and (2) whether academic knowledge has demonstrably led to changes actioned by regional stakeholders.