Exploring Researchfish

by Rick Hamilton

The first quarter of the new year is a busy time for our grant holders, research organisation staff, and all those involved with the collection of research outcomes in ESRC and UKRI. It sees the start of another Researchfish submission period, and this is the fifth year that our grant holders have taken part. Here in the ESRC Insights team, we have spent the year since the last submission period reviewing the data we have collected so far and reflecting on how we use it.

This has led to some realisations. We have realised we need to be clearer about what it is we are looking for from our grant holders and we need to better demonstrate how we use the data.

What are we looking for?

In order to be clearer about our reporting requirements, we have updated our reporting guidance. If you are a grant holder or a research office staff member, you will find information to help with the Researchfish submission process. We have written some ESRC specific guidance (PDF), setting out the key messages that we would like you to take into account when completing your submission.

In particular, we would like you to focus on the impact that your grant has generated, to provide us with the evidence we need to support the case for social science funding. There are also practical steps you can take that will help us get the most value from the data. This includes adding unique identifiers to your outputs (not just for publications!) and providing web links to evidence your impact.

How do we use your outcomes data?

We need to be better at communicating how we use our Researchfish data. After all, it can take a long time to complete a submission, and you would like to know what it’s all for!

We make use of the data in a number of ways, the most obvious being that it is published on the Gateway to Research website, but we also use it to report to government and for evaluating certain calls and schemes. While these requirements are reason enough to ask for this data each year, we are starting to use it for more analytical purposes, and to this end we have produced an overview of the data we have collected to date (PDF).

This overview highlights the fact that most of our community do make a submission each year, and our thanks go to the researchers, students and staff who work hard to make sure this happens.

So what does the data tell us?

While Researchfish lets you add outputs across 16 output types, it’s clear that not all fields are relevant to our grant holders. Based on the headline figures (see chart below), most of the outputs reported are publications or engagement activities. This is in line with what we would expect – researchers produce a lot of publications and engage with a wide range of audiences.

pie chart

But the huge volumes for these two output types makes it easy to overlook the rich variety of data captured for ‘other’ output types. As you can see in the following chart, the data is consistent with what we would expect to see from a community of social scientists – a high number of knowledge exchange focused outputs – collaborations, influences on policy to name just two. We see fewer physical outputs, such as spin outs, which are naturally more in the domain of the physical sciences.

bar chart

One concern that these figures raise is that the number of datasets reported is lower than we would expect, given the number of datasets our applicants indicate that they will produce. If you have produced data as part of your research, please remember to record this in Researchfish, as well as any impact it has had.

Our overview of the data has given us a clear direction for future analysis, and a package of at least five output types that deserve more attention. In particular we will look to explore our publications data in more depth, as well as further developing how we understand the impact of our research. To help us get the most out of these investigations, please do keep in mind the guidance (PDF) on our website when completing your submission.


rick 150Rick Hamilton is a Senior Information Analyst in the Insights team in ESRC, which is part of UK Research and Innovation. He is responsible for undertaking analysis of ESRC’s portfolio, operations and research outputs.

You can find more analysis carried out by the Insights team on the ESRC website.

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