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Trials. 2014 Nov 27;15:464. doi: 10.1186/1745-6215-15-464.

Measuring the impact of methodological research: a framework and methods to identify evidence of impact.

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Medical Research Council Clinical Trials Unit at University College London, Aviation House, 125 Kingsway, London WC2B 6NH, UK.



Providing evidence of impact highlights the benefits of medical research to society. Such evidence is increasingly requested by research funders and commonly relies on citation analysis. However, other indicators may be more informative. Although frameworks to demonstrate the impact of clinical research have been reported, no complementary framework exists for methodological research. Therefore, we assessed the impact of methodological research projects conducted or completed between 2009 and 2012 at the UK Medical Research Council Clinical Trials Unit Hub for Trials Methodology Research Hub, with a view to developing an appropriate framework.


Various approaches to the collection of data on research impact were employed. Citation rates were obtained using Web of Science ( and analyzed descriptively. Semistructured interviews were conducted to obtain information on the rates of different types of research output that indicated impact for each project. Results were then pooled across all projects. Finally, email queries pertaining to methodology projects were collected retrospectively and their content analyzed.


Simple citation analysis established the citation rates per year since publication for 74 methodological publications; however, further detailed analysis revealed more about the potential influence of these citations. Interviews that spanned 20 individual research projects demonstrated a variety of types of impact not otherwise collated, for example, applications and further developments of the research; release of software and provision of guidance materials to facilitate uptake; formation of new collaborations and broad dissemination. Finally, 194 email queries relating to 6 methodological projects were received from 170 individuals across 23 countries. They provided further evidence that the methodologies were impacting on research and research practice, both nationally and internationally. We have used the information gathered in this study to adapt an existing framework for impact of clinical research for use in methodological research.


Gathering evidence on research impact of methodological research from a variety of sources has enabled us to obtain multiple indicators and thus to demonstrate broad impacts of methodological research. The adapted framework developed can be applied to future methodological research and thus provides a tool for methodologists to better assess and report research impacts.

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