In November 2019, APLU unveiled its Public Impact Research: Engaged Universities Making the Difference report. The report is the result of a year of work by over 60 university leaders. Drawing on the group's work, the report issues five action steps for the public university community and stakeholders to advance public impact research (PIR). Several appendices to the report are currently under final development. They will be added to this page as soon as they are finalized.
The PIR group recommends the use of PIR as a broad label to describe how university research improves lives and serves society—locally, regionally, nationally, and globally. Using PIR consistently along with fundamental discovery and training the next generation workforce communicates powerfully to the public the value of university research and could help restore public trust in our institutions.
University research from the arts and humanities to the social and natural sciences, has long been at the forefront of scientific, scholarly, and creative efforts in the U.S., both leading the world in fundamental discoveries and responding powerfully to essential societal needs. Research and related technology development continue to alter our lives and offer opportunities that have never been greater for societal improvement such as with smart cities, artificial intelligence, personalized medication and healthcare, and the sustainable use of the ocean for economic development. However, national and global challenges have also increased while at the same time, public trust in our academic institutions is diminishing. As we face intense health emergencies, global climate change, and the challenge of providing national and international food security, universities are working to address these challenges in partnership with a wide range of organizations.
PIR is an overarching concept for a growing number of complementary labels for research activities and engagement, including Grand Challenges, Convergence, transdisciplinary, and “HIBAR” (Highly Integrative Basic and Responsive) research, among others. Although these approaches differ in various attributes, they draw upon a deep understanding in specific areas of fundamental research to build new knowledge and engage with stakeholders to identify and address societal issues. Using PIR as an umbrella term will leverage these approaches to magnify the general public’s understanding of how universities partner with others to provide value to the public on issues of real interest and impact.
Although the idea of PIR will be familiar to many higher education leaders and researchers (particularly to those working in Extension activities), the concept has not always been voiced or promoted explicitly or in a unified manner. In these troubled and challenging times, this report seeks to provide, in a clear and streamlined way, an explicit call to university leaders, faculty, and their partner stakeholders to act both individually, and collectively through APLU. Below are the report's five action steps for the public university community and stakeholders to advance public impact research.