Research Impact: In the Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design

We have produced this report in support of the Scottish Government’s Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design, to highlight the contribution of Scotland’s universities to these three areas.

The report presents the impact (benefits to people) of research undertaken in Scottish universities, focusing on architecture and design research to exemplify this. It identifies who benefits and how the impact is achieved.

We also explore universities’ role in delivering economic impact as a key part of the innovation ecosystem. Universities do this, in part, as key contributors to the Scottish Government’s CAN DO strategy. This contribution is possible due to the reinforcing relationships between institutions’ three key missions, namely research, teaching and knowledge exchange.

Beneficiaries of Research; Impact Pathways and Mechanisms

The Research Excellence Framework (REF) Impact case studies are a brilliant resource which we have used to understand beneficiaries of research, impact pathways and how that impact is delivered. From looking at a snapshot of research in Scottish universities (across 795 case studies) we have found that:

Research beneficiaries

Research within Scottish HEIs has had an impact on a wide range of stakeholder groups, often via unexpected channels. Key findings in our report on the beneficiaries of research include:

  • there were over 2000 beneficiaries across 45 different stakeholder groups so most case studies described benefits to many groups
  • the links between type of research and eventual beneficiary were often surprising indicating research benefits are far-reaching and cross traditional discipline boundaries

Impact pathways

Our report found that there is no standard route from a field of research (the research underpinning the case study) to the eventual impact topic. We found over 1300 unique pathways to impact across these case studies, and that research is interdisciplinary. This emphasises the importance of a diverse research base, contributing to impact.

Impact mechanisms

Scottish research impacts were judged to be ‘outstanding’ or ‘very considerable’ on the basis of their reach and significance. To understand how this far-reaching impact was achieved we investigated the mechanisms of impact. This showed that:

  • Research has influenced national and international policy in over 300 cases. This includes 89 examples of research contributing to a change in, or new, policy for the Scottish Government.
  • Some 2.6 million people have attended cultural events arising from research.
  • There are 102 examples of a new or improved product or process creating economic impact, and examples of 55 spin-out companies creating 869 jobs.

Architecture and Design

We have presented case studies of research in architecture and design, which illustrates the diverse benefits and beneficiaries of research


Universities' Contribution to Innovation

Scotland’s universities are committed to delivering economic impact as full partners in the Scottish innovation ecosystem. Our report sets out how universities deliver economic impact in Scotland through the mutually reinforcing links between their three key missions, namely teaching, research, and knowledge exchange.

Universities are working closely with innovation partners including government, which provides public funding of the three key missions to enable universities to deliver economic impact; businesses, to get their input into curricula, the direction of research and to help them access knowledge arising from research; and over 13,000 SMEs each year, to help them to innovate and grow.

We can show that innovation activities are growing and improving, along with delivering economic impact:

  • In 2013/14 the minimum estimate of the economic impact of Scottish HEI Innovation activities was £441 million.
  • Scotland has the highest share of UK spin-outs at 28%.
  • 2014 was Scotland’s third best year on record for Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). Businesses cite access to Scotland’s scientific research as a key reason for choosing to invest in Scotland

All Scottish universities are committed to the Universities Scotland 5-Point Action Plan to keep improving their innovation performance.

Key Points:

  • Scotland has a rich research base, delivering high quality research which benefits a broad range of people.
  • There is no standard route to a certain type of impact, or a certain beneficiary. The route to impact is often complicated, realised over a long time and unexpected which underlines the importance, and value, of a diverse research base.
  • 86% of Scottish research impacts were judged to be ‘outstanding’ of ‘very considerable’ in the Research Excellence Framework, on the basis of their reach and significance.
  • Universities deliver economic benefit as contributors to the innovation system – this is made possible by the relationships between the three key missions of research, teaching and knowledge exchange.
  • Universities can demonstrate exceptional impact; in order to achieve more the three key missions must be supported as an investment in the future


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