Impact planning toolkit
Identifying the potential impact of your research can help with planning and prioritising your activities. Knowing the current external situation can help you recognise where to collect the evidence of your impact.
This toolkit has been developed around five questions to help researchers understand their potential impact, consider new and existing stakeholders and get the most out of their engagement activities.
Q1. What impact could come from my research?
Impact occurs when research is used outside academia. Sometimes the potential impact of research can be clearly identified but on some occasions, you may need to consider the wider context of the research or think creatively about the stakeholders that could help your research to have impact. Impact rarely occurs in isolation or in a linear way.
The type of impact will vary depending on your research but can include:
- cultural, for example challenging norms
- economic, for example job or wealth creation
- environmental, for example lowering carbon dioxide emissions
- educational, for example improved engagement of hard to reach groups with a discipline
- health and wellbeing related, for example improved diagnosis or patient outcome
- social welfare and public services, for example improved public policy and access to services
- legal for example influencing a change in law
- operational and organisational change, for example improved manufacturing process
- practitioner or professional services improvement, for example a change in services
- societal, for example changes in awareness and understanding
- teaching for example wider reach of research into school or university curriculum.
To understand the different potential impact from your research, consider the situation as it is now and what could change by working with others:
- What is the current context?
- What do you want to achieve?
- What changes could happen through different stakeholders being aware of or using your research?
Q2. Who else is interested in this?
Being able to identify your stakeholders and beneficiaries can help you to target your plans effectively.
Stakeholders are organisations, groups or individuals who are affected by or can affect a decision, action or issue related to your research.
Beneficiaries are groups or individuals, either at a local, national or global scale, who ultimately are affected, influenced or experience an improvement from the research, with or without direct contact.
The National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement has produced a useful map of potential stakeholders in research.
You can start to identify your stakeholders and beneficiaries by thinking about
- who else has a common goal or mutual interest
- whether you can identify specific groups you would like to work with from the broad categories in the above stakeholder map
- why your research would be important to each group
- how the different groups interact
- who else influences the different groups
Prioritisation of stakeholders and beneficiaries
It isn't always effective or possible to interact with all the identified stakeholders. You can determine who will be best to interact with by considering the following:
- How likely are the groups identified to be affected by the research?
- What capacity do they have to use your research?
- How interested are the different groups likely to be in your research?
This will allow you to target your activities and consider potential risks to the impact.
Q3. How can I engage stakeholders with my research?
There are many different ways to engage stakeholders and beneficiaries with your research. Once you have identified the stakeholders you want to engage, you can tailor your activities accordingly.
Things to consider when planning activities
- What activities are you already conducting?
- Is there an intermediary, such as a knowledge exchange professional, external expert or artist you should work with?
- Do you need a communication strategy to raise awareness of your research to new groups or the public?
- What is involved in implementing your activity?
- Are there events or platforms run by the University that you can use?
- Which external engagement events or projects should you participate in to help achieve your impact?
There are many types of engagement activity. You should select the type that best suits your research and the stakeholder's needs.
Nurturing impact can take time and the best partnerships work is they are based on mutual interest. You should decide whether you or a member of your team is best placed to lead on these activities.
Some of the possible risks with stakeholder engagement are the below:
- The stakeholder agenda is already developed without considering research evidence.
- The stakeholder has confidentiality concerns.
- The research may challenge views of the groups and thus not be taken up.
- Stakeholders and beneficiaries cannot use research communication material.
- The research doesn't address the question in the manner required by the stakeholder group.
- The stakeholder lacks the capacity to engage with the research or implement the findings.
- The stakeholder timeframe differs from your project timeframe.
- A key contact leaves the organisation and the relationships with the stakeholder groups break down.
It is useful to consider how to manage expectations and when to engage with the groups identified. Early engagement with stakeholders is often beneficial to establish their needs, identify how best to engage them with the research, build flexibility into engagement plans and manage concerns. Some questions to consider:
- Will you engage at the beginning, during or at the end of the project?
- Will the stakeholder's requirements shape the research project?
- Will you keep them updated throughout the project and if so, how?
- How will you keep in touch after the project is completed?
Q4. What can I measure?
It can be easier to gather evidence of your activities as they occur rather than trying to find it months later. It is important to collect evidence to help demonstrate a clear link from your research to the impact.
When planning your activities, you should think about what you want to achieve from each activity, this will help determine what you should measure. Where possible you should collect qualitative and quantitative information.
Collecting information while conducting the activities can help to indicate where impact may be achieved at a later stage as well. For example, by keeping a record of attendees at an event you can see a link to your research if one of the attendees then uses your research to influence a policy.
What can be measured?
- Can you describe or measure the current context? It is important to understand the current situation or size of the problem so you can identify the influence, effects or changes that have taken place.
- Who has been engaged? Meeting agendas, Eventbrite invitations, attendee lists, demographics, numbers of attendees.
- How did they react to the research? Feedback from attendees, secondary reach from attendees passing on information.
- What online activity has there been? Retweets, web hits, downloads, media coverage. Altmetrics may help with this.
- Did a collaboration project achieve its goal? End of project reports, press releases.
Measurements collected by others
You should discuss the need to collect evidence impact of research with your stakeholders at an early stage so that they are aware of your requirements and the reasons behind it.
Consider the below questions:
- What do your stakeholders already measure?
- What performance measurements would your stakeholders be happy to share with you?
- Are there indicators collected by local, national or global bodies?
Evidence of impact can be collated and stored in the impact module of myPublications.
Q5. What support do I need?
Consider the below questions:
- Do you or your team need training?
- Do you need advice on any of your activities?
- Do you want help managing your relationships?
- Do you need advice on confidentiality?
- Do you need a publish and protect plan?