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How can we measure performance effectively in UK life sciences?

1 June 2018

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Reported by Kasia Brzezinska, AHRC-funded CSaP Policy Intern (Jan - April 2018)

CSaP held a policy workshop in collaboration with the Medicines Discovery Catapult to explore what approaches might be most suitable for developing and measuring the performance of UK life sciences research.

Performance measurement in the private sector is challenging, but in UK life sciences it can be even more difficult. One workshop delegate characterised performance measurement in his field as a combination of frustration and inspiration, whilst others highlighted challenges such as a lack of useful data and fixation with obtaining ‘perfect data’ or the wrong KPIs as standing in the way of effective performance management. And just as in the private sector, there is also a danger that measuring performance might become an end in itself.

Several ways to mitigate these issues were suggested at the workshop. Instead of searching for ‘perfect data’, combining partial and multiple measures might help to build a broader picture of an organisation’s effectiveness. Setting clear mission goals for an organisation helps to develop constructive KPIs and a shared understanding of an organisation’s aims and focus on its strategy will help to prevent measurement taking on a life of its own.

I greatly enjoyed the event and found it a helpful 'safe space' to discuss a range of ideas, I was very impressed by the people that you had convened around the table.

In the UK (and global) life sciences sector innovation is crucial. Attendees at the workshop debated whether metrics are at all useful for innovation. One participant argued that to create truly disruptive innovations, it’s very hard to impose metrics on the individuals who develop them and that too much process kills innovation. Another suggested that it’s impossible to run an organisation without process.

The general consensus was that measurement can be very useful, but only if used appropriately. If we use measures as a monitoring mechanism we run the risk of discouraging people, but if we use them as an encouragement mechanism they can work very well.

Ultimately, there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to performance measurement in UK life sciences research and it’s crucial for organisations to keep their strategy in mind when devising measures.

Mark Samuels

Medicines Discovery Catapult

Dr Steven Wooding

Centre for Science and Policy, University of Cambridge