Universities Take Promising Steps to Reward Research that Benefits Society

Scan shows growing momentum for broadening faculty reward systems

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Universities Take Promising Steps to Reward Research that Benefits Society

This white paper results from a scan of promising reforms to faculty reward systems that was commissioned by participants in the Transforming Evidence Funders Network (TEFN), facilitated by The Pew Charitable Trusts. These systems, including promotion and tenure (P&T) policies, often focus primarily on faculty members’ scholarly impact measured by citation counts and publication metrics and fail to sufficiently recognize their contributions to policy outcomes, community development, and technological innovation. The limited scope of faculty incentives is frequently cited as a primary barrier to expanding engaged approaches that draw on deep collaboration with partners outside the university to shape research agendas and outputs. Some argue that by encouraging outputs targeted to mostly academic audiences, these systems also limit opportunities for scholars to effectively connect research to policy decisions.

A TEFN work group commissioned this scan to surface promising models of institutional change for broadening P&T systems and to make recommendations for funders wishing to invest in this work. Through illustrative case examples from 13 universities and 10 higher education organizations, the white paper offers a suite of strategies that, by better rewarding publicly facing research, may help universities retain talented faculty, deepen public trust, and increase the impact of their research on issues of global and local significance. The authors also offer options for funders to accelerate universities’ efforts to expand P&T while strengthening the broader infrastructure for community- and policy-engaged research. In doing so, funders can help create the conditions for researchers to contribute more effectively to progress on issues such as peace, sustainability, public health, and equity.  

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