What is research impact anyway?

Simply put, impact is the effect, change or benefit to the non-academic world which occurs as a consequence of your research. If you keep asking yourself these fundamental questions, you won’t go far wrong: What could happen as a result of my research? Who could it benefit – and how? What can I do to help this to happen?

HEFCE defines research impact as ‘…an effect on, change or benefit to the economy, society, culture, public policy or services, health, the environment or quality of life, beyond academia.’ *

That’s quite an inclusive list! So when you’re planning your research impact, it might benefit to think creatively, beyond just the obvious. However you do also need to be realistic. Research impact is about results – what has actually happened.

So that could be lives saved, jobs created, income generated, terrorism plots thwarted, species saved from extinction – but equally the impact could be more nuanced, such as changes in social or cultural perceptions or behaviour, increased quality of life, improved performance – in sport, art & design, business, government, engineering, technology, the list goes on.

Why the recent emphasis on research impact?
Research impact isn’t new. Research has had an impact on the world since the invention of the wheel (both figuratively and literally).

What is new is the increased emphasis on maximising the potential benefit of your work and demonstrating that your work has generated impact. No more ivory towers – research needs to be accountable to prove its worth.

Some research funders now ask for a ‘pathways to impact’ statement as part of the grant submission. This is to encourage researchers to plan how their work might achieve impact right from the start, and provide costings for impact activities throughout the life of the project to maximise the impact potential.

And at the other end of the project lifecycle, achieved research impact is now rewarded in the Research Excellence Framework (REF) with the highest scoring impact case studies being rewarded financially (on average, £46K for a 4* case study, £10K for a 3* in REF2014).**

How do you generate research impact?
Now this is where it gets a bit more complicated. Research impact is not an exact science and there are many different routes to achieving impact goals. You are most likely to generate research impact if you plan well and make time for impact activities throughout the lifecycle of your project.

Some impact is the result of good luck, being in the right place at the right time. However, you are more likely to know where and when the right place and time is if you plan in advance and make time for impact activities!

This is where these webpages will help. The resources page provides a searchable list of guidance, toolkits, online training, etc. which you can access in your own time and to address your own specific needs. The Impact Support Programme lists scheduled events, workshops, training and seminars which develop impact-related skills and/or knowledge.

However you decide to generate impact from your research, please contact me with any feedback, good or bad, so that I can make these webpages as useful as possible.

Jenny Dunn
Research Support Officer (Impact & Performance)
Editor of the SHU Research Impact webpages

 

* HEFCE's definition of research impact for REF2014
** How much was an impact case study worth in the UK Research Excellence Framework? Fast Track Impact Magazine, Spring/Summer 2017