Towards an alternative framework for the evaluation of translational research initiatives

Jordi Molas-Gallart, Pablo D’Este, Oscar Llopis, Ismael Rafols
Research Evaluation
The perception that many promising results from basic biomedicine have not systematically contributed to medical treatments and, ultimately, health care improvements, has led to a wide range of publicly funded initiatives aiming at facilitating the ‘translation' of scientific discoveries into beneficial applications and practices. Many of these initiatives have been branded as ‘Translational Research' (TR), a term widely applied to large research programmes, research activities, and even academic journals. With the popularity of the term, a debate has emerged about the models of research that are to be considered ‘translational'. Consequently, the ways in which TR should be analysed and, more specifically, the approaches to the evaluation of TR programmes are also the subject of debate. Given the substantial investments in TR programmes, the definition of TR evaluation strategies and approaches has become an important element of the policy process. In a context of ambiguity about the type of activities to be considered as TR, evaluation approaches and practices can play an important role in determining what actions and outcomes are conceived, in practice, to be relevant and significant, and in doing so, shaping the future nature of TR initiatives. This article discusses the dominant approaches to TR evaluation and proposes an alternative evaluation framework, which would have implications both for TR evaluation processes and for the future shaping of TR programmes.