Institutional Repositories and measuring research impact

For better or worse universities and researchers are coming under increasing pressure to demonstrate the wider impact that their funded research has beyond the end of the research project.

But some are questioning whether traditional methods of measuring impact (peer-review, citation counts, Journal Impact Factor) are still fit for purpose in the modern research environment.

The open nature of the social web is continuing to have a disrupting effect on many aspects of scholarly communication. Today's research article is increasingly likely to be disseminated via social media/bookmarking websites making it instantly available to huge numbers of potential readers due to the innately viral nature of these services.

The exciting part is that modern web technologies make it possible to track each time an article is accessed from a tweet, blog or social bookmarking site. Now researchers can see in real-time how their research is being received around the globe. Transparent conversations evolve around papers as every (re)tweet, comment and annotation is available to be recorded and aggregated. This opens up the possibility to measure and define impact in new ways.

A number of emerging services are taking the first steps to build impact metrics based on these new usage data - collectively they are referred to as altmetrics. The people behind these services believe altmetrics may in future be used to supplement (or replace!) traditional methods of measuring impact - they even have a manifesto.

'View metrics'

These emerging altmetrics usually relate to the web-based use of the publisher's version of a research paper, so how can institutional repositories (IRs) capitalise on this broadening definition of research impact in order to benefit researchers?

The continuing failure to convince many researchers of the positive benefits of depositing to their IR is a common criticism of the repository community. The availability of this trove of rich usage data represents an opportunity for IRs to demonstrate the frequency with which the research they contain is used on the web.

Here at Manchester we've begun to make usage data captured using Google Analytics available through a new section of the service called 'View metrics'. Hopefully, by allowing researchers to see when, where and how often their eScholar records have been viewed and downloaded we can demonstrate how depositing research to eScholar can contribute to overall impact.

A screenshot of My eScholar - 'View metrics' 

In addition to usage data the 'View metrics' section also displays citation metrics under license from Thomson Reuters' InCites - Research Analytics as well as detailed metrics describing deposit activity. Researchers can view their own metrics as well as the metrics of their colleagues.

We're in the early stages of exposing impact metrics and it's difficult to predict how they will be used but we think there's value for the researcher and the institution in providing these metrics in a standardised way with a commitment to preserve the data indefinitely.    

For now the data displayed in 'View metrics' is available through an authenticated section of the service called My eScholar (requires University of Manchester log-on) but we'll soon start to expose usage and deposit data as appropriate on public-facing web pages.

If you're a member of staff or postgraduate research student at the University of Manchester then you can log-in to your My eScholar account now to check out 'View metrics'.

For further information visit our Frequently Asked Questions page or get in touch via email at