Research impact is the difference that your research has made outside of academia, directly or indirectly. This difference can sometimes be described as a change, benefit, effect, influence, contribution or improvement.
For example, the impact of your research might be improving the survival rate of premature infants, reducing carbon emissions in cars, contributing to policy change that protects a natural resource or enhancing pupil outcomes through changes to teaching practice.
We have two key definitions we use here at Bath, these are from our main funders:
“Research impact is an effect on, change or benefit to the economy, society, culture, public policy or services, health, the environment or quality of life, beyond academia”. Research England, REF 2014 definition
Although these definitions differ slightly they both focus on the positive difference research makes outside of academia. However, it is important to consider the potential negative or unintended impacts your research, for more information see EPSRC guide to as conducting responsible research and innovation.
Types of Impact
Research can impact on both academia through improved knowledge, theory and methods, and outside of academia on society and the economy. The type of impact your research achieves will vary depending on the nature of your research, but can include:
• cultural for example changing opinions • economic for example job creation • environmental for example less carbon dioxide emissions • health and well-being for example less chance of scarring • social welfare and public services for example greater efficiency • public policy and legislation for example change in law • operational and organisational change for example improved manufacturing process • technological for example improving communication
These impacts can be instrumental in nature such as informing and influencing policy development, changing practice or behaviours, developing new products and processes; or conceptual such as contributing knowledge to improve understanding of issues or the re-framing of debates (REF: ESCR).
There are many activities you can do to achieve and optimise your impact. The activities you choose will depend on your research, however planning your “pathway to impact” (i.e. how you are going to achieve impact) early with the appropriate stakeholders is key.
Many grant applications now have a pathway to impact section, where you will have to describe the activities you plan to undertake to achieve impact. How you achieve your impact may include knowledge exchange and public engagement activities, for example.
Knowledge Exchange (KE) is a process that brings together academic staff, users of research and wider groups and communities to exchange ideas, evidence and expertise. KE activities can help you to increase the impact of your research.
Public engagement encompasses a wide array of activities that share the benefits of higher education and research with the public. This engagement is usually “a two-way process, involving interaction and listening, with the goal of generating mutual benefit.” (University of Bath, Public Engagement Unit). Like Knowledge exchange it is the process, the how you can achieve impact. It helps to raise awareness of your research with different groups, such as business, clinicians, or policymakers and can be a great pathway to impact.
Difference between impact, activities and outputs
Impact is the end goal – the ultimate differences that your research might make to different groups of people, communities or regions, society, or the economy. Your activities, the things that you do, is how you can achieve that goal. Your research outputs are the things that you produce from your research and associated activities, such as a Journal article, toolkit, website.
Importance of Impact
Understanding and achieving impact from our research is becoming increasingly important. Impact is influencing funding decisions, the University’s performance in research assessment exercises and as such our reputation.
In times of increasing budget constraints our funders are having to provide accountability for the public money they spend on the research they fund by demonstrating the benefits that the research brings. It can in turn help to enhance the UKs reputation and make it an attractive place to invest in research and innovation.
It is important to understand your own reasons and motivations for conducting your research. Engaging with a broad range of potential beneficiaries when planning your research can improve the quality of your research, help you to secure funding, raise your profile and reputation. (Ref: UK Research and Innovation )
When thinking about the potential impact of your research, some initial questions to start to consider are:
What problem could your research help to solve? Or need / opportunity could it address?
What difference do you want your research to make?
Who will it affected by or interested in your research?
How will they be benefit from your research? Are there any potential negative impacts?