Understanding impact

One way to begin to understand impact is to look at it from the perspective of research funding. In 2009, Research Councils UK introduced a requirement for all grant proposals to contain an Impact Summary and an Impact Plan (now called Pathways To Impact). These documents are used to outline the wider benefits that research might potentially have beyond academia and to describe the activities the research team are planning to undertake to help these benefits be realised.

The BBSRC diagram above gives an overview of types of impact. There is no finite list of acceptable impact activities, it is about planning and considering the possible outcomes of the research, even though it is not yet undertaken.

When considering impact, these questions are a useful starting point:

  • Who else could benefit from this research (apart from other academics)? It could be a company, charity, group of individuals, specific community, geographical region, the environment, the economy or members of your research team
  • How will they benefit? What will change for them?
  • What might change for them as a result of this research?
  • What will you do to give these potential beneficiaries the opportunity to benefit?

Thinking about the potential beneficiaries of your research at an early stage can influence the design of your research to increase its reach and significance. Impact activities should be specific, tailored to your research and appropriate to your stakeholders. Wherever possible, engagement with stakeholders should be two way and early in the project. Don’t just tell interested parties about your outputs. Ask potential end users early on what they think of your research area and what might be of use or benefit to them.

Examples of impact