Making the invisible visible – new research impact metrics

Blog post
Kirsi-Maria Hyytinen

Existing innovation metrics do not extend to or reveal the multi-role nature or wide-ranging impact of research organizations and the innovations they have developed. Senior Specialist Kirsi Hyytinen explains how VTT has begun to change the evaluation of research impact.

The easy problems have already been solved. Today’s major social problems are complex, systemic and cannot be resolved by simple solutions. Developing viable solutions requires the combination of various technologies and services, and cooperation between businesses, researchers and decision-makers.

Grappling with systemic problems is part of the everyday work of research institutes. Their mission is to develop commercialisable solutions to society’s key problems, in cooperation with partners. Research organizations use the latest research data and apply it to business needs. As well as building systematic competencies, we create co-operative platforms, or ecosystems, which stimulate cooperation between actors.

Current research metrics are too narrow and do not describe impact

Traditional innovation metrics do not reveal the true impact of research organizations and the innovations they have developed. In essence, there are two reasons for this:

Firstly, traditional metrics of the impact of research, development and innovation (RDI) are narrow. They have been calibrated to identify the benefits of research and innovation from a purely technical and economic perspective. They cannot describe change and growth in society, or bring out the intangible or social value of innovation. That is why e.g. the gains from solutions that combine services and technology, and the benefits gained by society and customers, remain invisible. In the worst-case scenario, narrow metrics lead to inaccurate or even wrong decisions.

Secondly, metrics tend to focus on inputs at the expense of impact. Because demonstrating impact is difficult, the evaluation of RDI impacts mainly focuses on measuring inputs, i.e. factors such as funding, or outputs such as articles, patents and invention disclosures. Measuring only inputs and outputs deprives us of sufficient information on how successful we are at developing impactful solutions. Since we are in the ‘impact business’, i.e. building a more sustainable, safer and more prosperous society, our metrics must measure the impact of our actions.

VTT’s new evaluation framework seeks to demonstrate impact

VTT has taken the challenges involved in evaluating and measuring impact seriously, and has developed a new evaluation framework for making the invisible visible. The new evaluation framework measures VTT’s impact on the basis of four dimensions: the benefit to society, benefit to customers, the excellence of our operations and balanced finances. In addition, we have defined 12 new measures of success for promoting evaluation.

Impact is the main objective guiding our actions. To achieve this, we are creating a basis for the sustainable growth of society and regeneration of various sectors by developing new products, services and technologies together with our partners. These will support the emergence of new markets and industrial renewal, while safeguarding the prosperity and sustainable development of society.

The social impact will be built on the customer impact. To ensure this, we help customers succeed and grow by developing their competencies, contributing to the achievement of their targets and assisting them with international networking.

The impact generated by VTT in society and for its customers is based on the excellence of our operations. We develop innovative solutions through high-quality scientific and applied research. These goals are supported by the continuous learning and development of VTT’s organisation and by excellent leadership. Our operational excellence and impact depend on balanced finances within VTT. In turn, we can ensure this by attending to our turnover, productivity and order book and using resources effectively – all for the benefit of our customers and society.

KirsiMaria Hyytinen
Kirsi-Maria Hyytinen
Research Team Leader