Benchmarking research impact and improving your ranking

The 2016 academic rankings are out, and whether or not you’re pleased with your results, it’s time to start thinking ahead to next year. Where can you improve, and what are the most strategic things you can do to either maintain or improve your ranking for the future? Fortunately, tools like benchmarking can help with this.

“You have to have what I call clarity,” says Satinder Dhiman, associate dean of Woodbury University’s School of Business. “You have to have clarity of what you’re doing, your goal, your role. If you have that, then benchmarking is really meaningful. Benchmarking will polish it up.”

Benchmarking impact

Benchmarking is important for a number of reasons. The first is simply that many accrediting bodies require benchmarking. Equally important, though, is that it can help guide research and make it more productive. Understanding what effect research is having can make future research more productive and beneficial to society.

Dhiman says there are two types of benchmarking, one more rigorous than the other. The first he terms “industrial tourism,” which means that the benchmarker simply looks around to see what is out there. Who else is working in the field, what are they doing, and how successful do they seem to be? This can be helpful because there’s a wealth of information easily accessible online. On the other hand, information is so readily available in the modern world that you can make the case for almost anything.

For true benchmarking, researchers and research leadership must first understand exactly their own research endeavor. Then they can measure their results based on their own goals, and strategically plan based on those same goals. In this case, benchmarking is a way to methodically ascertain how you’re measuring up in specific areas.

“This is not just fluff,” observes Dhiman. “This is something real. Something which has behind it the test of time, or some scholarship. So benchmarking, to be meaningful, has to be informed.”

Improving ranking

Dhiman says that for both universities and individual researchers, the research mission is key to improving ranking. Without this guidance, research can lose its meaning and impact, leading both to lower placement in rankings and a decline in citations, as well as reduced societal impact. Benchmarking, too, must be guided by the principles in the research mission; you want to excel at the things you prioritize.

The worst thing a researcher or institution can do is deviate from these principles and priorities for the sole purpose of getting higher citations or a promotion.

“One Harvard study showed that on average, a research article is read by seven people, and three of them are the co-authors,” says Dhiman. “And maybe one of them is the wife or husband or mother, so you wonder what kind of impact that is creating.”

This isn’t to say that every research paper needs to be judged by the research mission alone. However, using the mission to guide research goals and benchmarking can help research leaders improve the rankings of the university as well as the impact of its research. Articulating the research through this lens can also help to highlight its impact.

When it comes to hiring new faculty, the mission can also help attract the right people to truly enhance a university and its reputation, too. In this case, benchmarking can help attract top-tier faculty by showing that the institution truly excels at its research mission.

“The research mission is your North Star, to which the research should hitch itself,” Dhiman says. “When we start a journey, the first thing we need to decide is where to go. That’s the mission.”