Ghent University first of Belgian Universities to sign San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA)

(08-12-2020) By signing the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA) Ghent University reaffirms its commitment to a more holistic and nuanced approach to research assessment.

The San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment was established in 2012 by the American Society for Cell Biology. It comprises a number of logical but also pioneering (for its time) recommendations regarding the way in which research should be assessed. DORA asserts that the quality of the research itself should be assessed, regardless of where or by whom it is published, and that its quality should not be determined based on, for example, the impact factor of the journal in which it is published.

Furthermore, in addition to articles, the declaration advocates for the inclusion of other forms of research output in the assessment of research, such as datasets and software, and for establishing a broad overview of the impact of the research, such as by taking into account the influence of the research on policy.

Ignace Lemahieu, Director of Research: “Traditional quantitative, output-oriented assessments do not sufficiently align with the nature of the objectives of the research under assessment, nor with the role that researchers wish to occupy in society. DORA is a call to include ‘other’ kinds of research output in research assessment, as well as to assess research output in ‘other’ ways.”

Toward a new assessment culture

Inspired by DORA and in alignment with the assertion that the conventional system falls short, Ghent University has in recent years developed a vision of how research should be assessed.

The 2016 vision statement asserts that evaluation criteria should be chosen with due consideration, taking into account the objective of the assessment, the intended impact of the research as well as the factor of disciplinary diversity. The chosen indicators and criteria must be shared in advance with all involved parties. In 2017 this vision was further developed in a supplementary guideline for the use of indicators in the evaluation of research.

The recognition of other kinds of research output also became a part of Ghent University’s vision on research, as evidenced by the societal value creation policy plan from 2015, which seeks to stimulate and value the societal impact of research.

The principles of Ghent University’s vision were gradually put into practice, first of all in the funding of its own research. In the application process for various project types, applicants are now asked to list the five most important past achievements of the researchers involved. In some calls applicants are also asked about the possible economic and societal impacts. For the university’s Interdisciplinary Research Consortia (IDCs) decisive assessment criteria include their vision on interdisciplinarity and an impact plan.

Parallel to research assessment, another developing area is the assessment of researchers. Since the advent of the new career path and evaluation policy for professorial staff in 2018, promotions are no longer based predominantly on the research record of the researcher. Other aspects of their academic career path – education, leadership and people management, institutional and societal engagement – are also assessed. Within the aspect of research, factors other than publication output and impact are taken into account, such as other sorts of output and other forms of academic work, e.g. peer review.

“Broaden your view on research assessment”

By signing DORA, Ghent University has made a commitment to carry on down this path.

Rik Van de Walle, Rector: “Ghent University has already achieved a great deal in terms of the assessment of research and has – especially with the new career path and evaluation policy for professorial staff – placed itself ahead of the pack internationally when it comes to innovation. But there’s a long way to go yet. Honing our assessment culture – because that’s what it is, a culture – is a gradual process that requires a long-term approach. The ultimate goal is to implement an assessment culture that puts the quality of the research first, that values diversity in terms of both the research and the researchers, and that encourages proper, honest research practices.”

Because academics work in a global context, Ghent University closely follows international developments and continually aligns the assessment policy with the broader context.

Rik Van de Walle: “It should not be the case that our researchers are hindered by the internal assessment policy in the acquisition of external funding or in applying for vacancies at other institutions. Ghent University also takes care not to completely ignore output-oriented indicators, e.g. because of the role they play in the Flemish and international funding landscape. That being said, I also want to call on our national and international colleagues at universities, funding agencies and governments to broaden their view on research assessment and research in general, and to join us in signing DORA and adopting its principles. Obviously there’s already a lot of things happening, and while not pretending to be the ‘perfect’ example, we’re glad to share our experiences and expertise on career paths for professorial staff or interdisciplinary research that specifically aims at societal impact.”


Nele Bracke
Research Department