By Lara Skelly, Open Research Manager for Data and Methods, Loughborough University Library
Sleeping Beauty slumbers for decades in her tower until she is woken by a prince, whom she marries, and they live happily ever after. We all know the story, but what if the prince was gone when she awoke? Where would she find her happily ever after?
The case of the missing prince is not a tale that everyone knows, but it might be familiar to those reporting on the impact of their research. Sleeping Beauties in research are articles1 that lie largely undiscovered for a period until they are cited, mentioned in the media or otherwise woken up [source]. If the prince did the proper thing and cited the article, then happily ever after could be a sure ending, but many princes do not conform to these standard practices and slip away before they are discovered.
Take, for example, Karen Blay’s thesis on resilience in projects. First uploaded in 2017, it received a few hundred views each year, when suddenly, in July 2022, there were over 2000. Karen was on leave for much of the year and is at a loss as to what might have sparked this level of interest, particularly from Cardiff, London, Helsinki and Amsterdam which all reflected over 300 views that month.
Korbinian Moeller is similarly unsure what caused the bump in the views of his paper, Potential and limits of game-based learning. Since its upload to Loughborough University’s Research Repository, it’s never had more than a hundred views in a month. Until, inexplicably, it was viewed almost 500 times in August 2022, most of them from Seychelles and Australia. Presumably, the prince resides out there.
Princes are easier to track if you create your own. Lise Jaillant tweeted about her article, which had just been published in Open Access. The tweet was seen over 13 000 times, easily marking itself the prince that led to 600+ views in January 2023, whereas previous months never saw more than twenty-five views.
Knowing your prince is a good first step in tracking impact. After all, views are necessary precursors to the change that any research project could make. But the happily-ever-after of impact takes more than just finding the prince. Anyone with a messy life knows that happily can happen in small moments just as easily as in the big moments; that happily can happen instantaneously or after years of a long slog. Happily is not quantifiable, even though one could count the happy moments. So too, with impact, which can happen on a large scale or small, immediately or delayed. As our Responsible use of research metrics policy puts out, quantitative measures do not tell the full story.
Not all impact depends on a prince. Some research projects are not Sleeping Beauties at all. Ian Taylor, whose research was the focus of Experts in sports podcast, Episode 35, has seen steadily increasing interest in his work from some unusual places, including a book on feminist creativity.
So, in searching for the ever-elusive impact stories, keep a watchful eye out for princes or be your own prince. If the Sleeping Beauty analogy doesn’t work for you (or your research), drop it like a golden ball down a well. And if anyone has any information on the missing princes, please get in touch with firstname.lastname@example.org.
The author is grateful for the assistance from David Campling in identifying stories with missing princes.
The views and opinions of this article are the author’s and do not reflect those of the University…although hopefully, they do reflect Loughborough University values.
 I use the word articles because that has traditionally been the only item of interest, but with the rise of Open Research practices, Sleeping Beauties can be any file related to research that is somehow discoverable.