At a time of growing emphasis on both the use of research and accountability, it is important for research funders, researchers and other stakeholders to monitor and evaluate the extent to which research contributes to better action for health, and find ways to enhance the likelihood that beneficial contributions are realized. Past attempts to assess research 'impact' struggle with operationalizing 'impact', identifying the users of research and attributing impact to research projects as source. In this article we describe Contribution Mapping, a novel approach to research monitoring and evaluation that aims to assess contributions instead of impacts. The approach focuses on processes and actors and systematically assesses anticipatory efforts that aim to enhance contributions, so-called alignment efforts. The approach is designed to be useful for both accountability purposes and for assisting in better employing research to contribute to better action for health.
Contribution Mapping is inspired by a perspective from social studies of science on how research and knowledge utilization processes evolve. For each research project that is assessed, a three-phase process map is developed that includes the main actors, activities and alignment efforts during research formulation, production and knowledge extension (e.g. dissemination and utilization). The approach focuses on the actors involved in, or interacting with, a research project (the linked actors) and the most likely influential users, who are referred to as potential key users. In the first stage, the investigators of the assessed project are interviewed to develop a preliminary version of the process map and first estimation of research-related contributions. In the second stage, potential key-users and other informants are interviewed to trace, explore and triangulate possible contributions. In the third stage, the presence and role of alignment efforts is analyzed and the preliminary results are shared with relevant stakeholders for feedback and validation. After inconsistencies are clarified or described, the results are shared with stakeholders for learning, improvement and accountability purposes.
Contribution Mapping provides an interesting alternative to existing methods that aim to assess research impact. The method is expected to be useful for research monitoring, single case studies, comparing multiple cases and indicating how research can better be employed to contribute to better action for health.
- Biomedical Research
- Diffusion of Innovation
- Models, Theoretical
- Program Evaluation
- Research Design
- Journal Article