Pathways to Impact

Since 2009, the Impact Summary and Pathways to Impact have been a compulsory part of grant applications for the seven UK Research Councils. They are a response to ever tighter budgets and are intended to ensure that publicly funded research delivers as many benefits as possible.

They are not the primary criterion for deciding who gets funding. This is the excellence of the research, as it always has been. However, the Pathways to Impact may be used to decide between proposals of equal merit so they are worth doing well.

This page contains guidance and resources to help you prepare your Impact Summary and Pathways to Impact.

FAQs

Introduction

In 2009, the UK Research Councils UK introduced a requirement for all grant applications to contain an Impact Summary and Pathways to Impact document.

Applicants for grants should use these documents to outline the wider benefits their research might potentially have beyond academia and describe the activities the research team are planning to undertake to help these benefits be realised.

This goes beyond the dissemination of your work although this can be a route to impact. You need to consider the change that could come about from non-academics knowing about and using your research.

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The UK Research Councils do not expect you to accurately predict the outcome of research which hasn't been undertaken. They do expect you to have considered all the potential beneficiaries of your research and what you can do to help benefits from your research happen.

What is in the Impact Summary and Pathways to Impact?

The Impact Summary and Pathways to Impact should answer three specific questions:

Impact Summary:

  1. Who might benefit from this research (not including other academics)?
  2. How would they benefit from this research?

The Impact Summary describes how your research may have a benefit or result in a change outside academia. This is not restricted to the duration of the project and can consider the short, medium and long term benefits that occur outside academia.

Pathways to Impact:

  1. What will be done to ensure that potential beneficiaries have the opportunity to engage with this research?

The Pathways to Impact document focuses on what you or your group will do to move the research and its outputs towards this benefit or change. The Pathways to Impact document should:

  • Provide a detailed description of a set of specific activities to be undertaken as part of the research project
  • Include a realistic timeline for carrying out the activities
  • Add to and complement the other parts of the research proposal
  • Include justified requests for funding for the activities described

Impact documents should not:

  • Accurately predict the impact of research not yet undertaken
  • Contain details of academic impact
  • Repeat the Impact Summary
How are they used and what difference do they make?

Peer reviewers are asked to assess whether:

  • All the potential beneficiaries have been identified
  • The potential economic and societal impacts are relevant to the proposal
  • The Pathways to Impact activities have been appropriately considered
  • The costs requested are justified

Feedback from peer reviewers and panel members confirms that Pathways to Impact are read, considered and assessed when deciding where funding will be allocated.

No request for funding for excellent research will ever be turned down purely because of a poor Pathways to Impact. The primary criterion for allocating research funding remains the excellence of the research itself, and the introduction of Pathways to Impact has not changed that. However, we have been seeing increasing instances of Research Councils sending proposals back to authors and withholding funding until the Pathways to Impact statement has been brought up to an acceptable standard. 

In addition, where a number of proposals of equal merit are before a panel, the Pathways to Impact is one of several criteria used to decide between them. Panels will consider the details of the activities to determine their appropriateness.

Indirectly, a well thought out Pathways to Impact fully embedded in the research proposal will reflect well on the thought and care the Principal Investigator has put into the proposal as a whole. Similarly, a sloppy, vague or clearly cut-and-pasted Pathways to Impact can undermine the overall impression the proposal makes on reviewers.

How to go about it

It is always best to think about your Pathways to Impact when you start thinking about your research proposal. The earlier in the process you start to think about it, the easier it will be to write. Completing the Impact Summary first can help you tailor your Pathways to Impact activities.

1) Impact Summary (4000 character in Je-S form)

  • Start by asking yourself "Who else could benefit from this research?" (it could be a company, charity, group of individuals, specific community, geographical region, the environment, the economy, members of your research team, etc.)
  • Consider both the direct and the indirect beneficiaries
  • For each of the groups or organisations you’ve mentioned above, ask yourself "How will they benefit?" and "What will change for them?"
  • NB: The Impact Summary may be published by the Research Councils so please be careful not to include any sensitive or confidential information (e.g. names of industrial partners)

2) Pathways to Impact (maximum 2 A4 page attachment)

  • For each of the impacts identified in your Impact Summary, ask yourself "What can I do to encourage this to happen?"
  • Think of the most appropriate activities to engage with or reach the beneficiaries you have identified (see below)

The UK Research Councils have said they want researchers to outline the planning and management of associated activities including timing, personnel, skills, budget, deliverables and feasibility of the Pathways to Impact activities. So for each activity, give as much detail as possible. For example, consider:

  • At what stage of the project it needs to happen
  • Who will be responsible for managing/carrying out the activity
  • Whether you will require external support. This could be working with a designer to improve the commercial potential of your research or design promotional material or websites; an artist or games designer to help convey your research to the public or inspire researchers of the future; professional production team to produce films, animations or other educational resources
  • Which other stakeholders need to be involved and how you will identify and engage with them
  • How you will measure success. This could include monitoring and evaluating the Pathways to Impact periodically, setting up an advisory group to shape future activities, using questionnaires, stakeholder surveys, collecting website statistics and impact activity data and/or conducting exit polls at the end of key activities to determine if the needs of user communities have been met
  • What training your team will need to deliver the activity (e.g. communications, web design, marketing, social media, lobbying)
  • Any track record/experience within your team of delivering similar activities.

For each activity, identify items for which you can request additional funds (see below).

Do's and Don'ts

Do

  • Think about your Pathways to Impact early on in the development of your research proposal
  • Be imaginative but realistic
  • Be specific and give details (dates, responsibilities, etc.)
  • Tailor your impact activities to your research. They should be relevant to the type of research and to your stakeholders/end users
  • Plan impact activities throughout the life of your project and involve stakeholders and potential end users early in the process
  • Make your engagement two-way wherever possible. Give stakeholders a chance to feed into the design of your project
  • Request appropriate funding for impact activities
  • Keep it brief and relevant. 2 sides of A4 is the upper limit for the Pathways to Impact. You are by no means obliged to write this much
  • Get peers and colleagues to read over your Pathways to Impact

Don't

  • Describe your research all over again
  • Mention academic impact (conferences, papers and articles) unless it is a key pathway to delivering your non-academic impact. If this is the case, you should make this link clear
  • Cut and paste your Impact Summary into your Pathways to Impact
  • Make wild and unrealistic claims for potential impact
  • List vague and general activities (e.g. "We will engage industry")
  • Waffle to fill 2 sides of A4
  • Give a general description of the University’s facilities for delivering impact (unless you are outlining specifically how you intend to use them)
  • Cut and paste from a previous or a colleague's Pathways to Impact, or use an 'off the peg' template
What makes a good Pathways to Impact?

A survey of peer reviewers and panel members from across all councils identified these as the key characteristics of Pathways to Impact.

A good Pathways to Impact is: A poor Pathways to Impact is:
Tailored to proposal Bolted on
Integrated into full life of project Not related to the proposal
Concise Waffling
Detailed Generic
Concrete Vague
Realistic Overambitious
Honest Rushed
Imaginative Sketchy
Correct and comprehensive in its identification of stakeholders Aimed at academia
Well thought out

BBSRC's scoring criteria are here.

Example Pathways to Impact activities

There is no finite list of acceptable impact activities. You should include any activity that you feel will help the groups you have identified to realise the benefits you have described in your Impact Summary. Feel free to be creative in designing your own activities to suit your proposal.

You can find further guidance in the University's impact planning toolkit.

The Pathways to Impact activities should be specific, tailored to your research and appropriate to your stakeholders. Wherever possible, engagement with stakeholders should be two way and take place throughout the project. Don’t just tell interested parties about your outputs. Ask potential stakeholders and beneficiaries early on what they think of your research area and what might be of use or benefit to them.

Make sure that you have a pathway for every beneficiary mentioned in your Impact Summary. You don't have to interact with them directly but you should be able to describe a pathway that could increase the likelihood of the change for that group.

Examples of activities

Engaging stakeholders and beneficiaries (before, during and after the project)

Your impact activities may have started before even submitting the research application. You should mention if you have engaged with a steering group, lay advisory panel such as a patient public involvement group or had public or stakeholder engagement to inform the design of the project.

You should describe how you will continue to engage with these groups during the lifetime of the project and how their input will be used to shape communications, expand interaction with stakeholders and/or research user groups, or to develop engagement activities.

Your Pathways to Impact may include activities to raise awareness or facilitate uptake of your research. The events you organise should be tailored to your intended audience. Consider the best place to hold an event and who will organise it. You should describe how your audience will know it is happening and the types of groups you expect to attend.

If you plan to engage a new group of beneficiaries, it is important to consider who influences this group. You may want to engage with professional bodies, societies, practitioners or charities to champion your research with these new groups prior to your event. If you plan to have an exhibit or workshop at a stakeholder events to enhance engagement with your beneficiaries you should be clear when this will happen and how the attendees will be able to feed back.


Working with partners

Working or co-creating with external partners (which can be individuals, groups, communities, organisations, practitioners) provides a strong potential pathway to utilise the knowledge gained in the research project.

Pathways to Impact can be used to describe how you will go about identifying new partners, through attending relevant events, working with your Faculty Knowledge Exchange (KE) or external engagement teams, or through scoping meetings. Remember to include travel costs to visit potential partners.

Where the project is building on an existing partnership, the Pathways to Impact should describe how and when you will engage with your partners. If possible, describe the partner commitment by explaining their engagement with the project and their future plans to use the research.

Your expertise and background may mean you have close links to charities or professional bodies where you may act as an advisor, board member or provide talks to members or family groups. This can be included if you will be using the research project to inform the conversations and information provided.


Influencing policy

Generating impact from your research may involve providing evidence to or engaging policymakers. There may be activities already planned by your faculty that you can take part in or you may write policy briefs for relevant policymakers, all party parliamentary groups (APPGs) or respond to committee inquiries. Parliament has a useful suite of information for researchers on their website. If you know when key meetings or inquiries are coming up describe when and how you will engage with them. If a member of the project team has responsibility for horizon scanning, include details of the type of policies or enquiries they will be looking to identify.


Communications

Communicating your research with the aim of to increasing awareness can be part of your Pathways to Impact.

Your project may benefit from having a website but it will be most effective if it is tailored to the potential audience. This will need to be done in combination with other communication methods. You may need to employ a designer to ensure that the webpage provides the best user experience.

Blogs are an informal ‘diary’ style posts. It can be used to provide updates on the research progress and to pose questions to readers to gain their feedback. You can have this as part of your webpage or post on other blogs to engage with wider audiences.

Twitter is a social media platform where users post 'tweets' of 280 characters. It can be used to engage with a wide demographic around the world. Followers can respond to your tweet or retweet an interesting post which would be then seen by their followers, extending the potential reach of your research. Tweets can also contain links, photos or videos.

Films or animations are a great way to convey the complex background information or project development to a general audience. This can be used as the basis for meaningful conversations around your project. Films should be kept to approximately 2 minutes.

Using different methods to communicate your research, such as infographics, means the communication can be tailored to the audience you're trying to reach. These can be hosted on webpages or used as handouts at events.

You can also communicate your research through the media. This may include articles for publications like the Conversation, radio or television appearances or creating press releases.

If you are working with an external partner or have close ties to a charity, professional body or society then they may send information about your research through their communication channels.


Public engagement

Public engagement can be included in your Pathways to Impact. It can take many forms and reach many audiences, from schoolchildren to associations of enthusiasts, from the general public to specific interest groups. It is important to match your public engagement activity to your research. Make sure you identify the most relevant and appropriate audiences and choose the most effective way to engage with them.

Effective ways to engage the specific groups or the public include:

  • Working with artists or creative professionals to help communicate your research through different methods, such as exhibits, games, plays or storytelling
  • School projects with teachers or pupils to enhance understanding, create teaching materials or inspire and engage young people with the subject
  • Interactive workshops where the public can engage with the research concepts
  • Working with the public as researchers, also known as citizen science

The National Coordinating Council for Public Engagement (NCCPE) have produced some excellent guidance on public engagement activities.

The University runs festivals and events to support researchers to engage with the public. The Public Engagement Team can provide advice on including public engagement activities in your Pathways to Impact.


Building capacity in your team

  • Mention if you have a successful track record in conducting activities or working with partners or groups relevant to the project.
  • For some activities you or your team may need to attend training to develop skills. This may be internal or external, such as media training, attending public engagement masterclasses, storytelling or writing for a lay audience workshops, or collaboration, partnership or commercialisation workshops.
  • Any training mentioned should be designed to engage better with external audiences.
Requesting funding for impact activities

Research Councils are keen to fund reasonable, relevant and appropriate impact activities. You should make sure you ask for additional funding for the activities you outline in your Pathways to Impact. There is no official upper limit (either as a flat figure or as a percentage of the total) to how much you can request for impact activities, as long as you can answer 'yes' to the following questions:

  • Will these activities be carried out during the life of the project?
  • Is the amount requested appropriate for the activity described?
  • Is this activity relevant to the research project and likely to encourage the impacts described?

This is an opportunity for you to request funding for activities that can benefit you, your research team and your research itself. Make it work for you.

If the Research Council decide not to fund one or more of your impact activities, it will have no negative effect on your project's chances of being funded, so you lose nothing by asking. 

However, you should bear in mind that the impact costs form part of the Full Economic Costing (fEC) of the project. Therefore, on projects with a stated upper funding limit, impact activities will have to be incorporated within that limit and you may need to be balanced against other project costs.


Eligible costs

You can request anything that is eligible under fEC, so long as it is specific to that particular project and is justified. General activities that are arranged at the level of the department, school or university (for instance, industry open days) would not be eligible. The quality of the justification and the relevance of the resources will be assessed by peer review. 

Examples of eligible costs

  • Secondments/people exchange (either to other disciplines or user organisations)
  • Training, e.g. for Research Assistants in impact-related areas, project management, web design, comms, networking
  • Employment of specialist staff (for instance consultants, business analysts, designers, communications specialists, video makers, web designers) with a clear justification and description of what they will do on the project. This includes existing University of Sheffield staff who are knowledge exchange experts and other relevant categories of staff
  • Project-specific marketing assessments and early stage commercialisation exploration
  • Workshops, seminars, networking and engagement events, e.g. with other disciplines, industry, policy makers, the public or third sector
  • Production of non-academic materials such as posters, videos, websites, leaflets, toolkits. (NB This does not include the costs of publishing a paper in either an academic journal or open access.)
  • Project-specific publicity
  • Public engagement activities

Ineligible costs

  • Patent costs and other Intellectual Property (IP) costs: These costs are not eligible because universities receive funding to support their commercialisation efforts through the dual support system. Intellectual Property Rights tends to be covered by someone's contract of employment, and Research Councils delegate both the responsibility and the benefits to the individual and their employer. This also applies to licensing agreements and establishment of spin-outs.
  • Researcher career development costs: These costs are not eligible because sustainability of human resources, which includes support for career development, are included in the full economic costing of research. However, where the application of the development activities is specific to the project additional costs may be sought. The applicant must clearly articulate the specific contribution from these activities to the pathways to economic and societal impacts.

Eligible public engagement activities

Societal impact is one of the key areas covered under the impact umbrella, so it is legitimate for researchers to request resources to undertake public engagement activities. We wouldn't expect every research grant to contain a large scale public engagement project but they could include, for example:

  • Training in public engagement or communications
  • Communicating the research to the public
  • Consulting and working with a particular user group

In addition to communicating their research findings to the public, researchers should also consider two-way engagement and interaction with the public. For example, working with a particular user group where there might be a tangible relevant output; and for areas with potential societal or ethical impact, ascertaining current public attitudes and hopes/concerns for the area.

Public engagement can take place at any point - before your research begins to help shape your research question, during the research grant as part of the research process or at the end of the grant to feedback on the findings and potentially influence the future research portfolio. Types of public engagement activities may include science festivals, debates, discussion and consultation with public audiences appropriate to your research project.

Indicative costs for impact activities

Public engagement: For detailed costs for public engagement activities contact the Public Engagement Team.

Example activity Resources Approximate costs
  • Exhibition (at local museum or galley)
  • Participation in an existing event (e.g. Festival of the Mind)
  • Workshops with relevant interest groups
  • Public facing website
  • Interactive media/games
  • School visit or educational resources
  • Attendance at stakeholder conference
Artist £200-500/day
Travel costs £10-200/person
Staff time Your team staff costs
Project manager Approximately £300/day
Materials (posters, leaflet etc)

Poster design & print: £150 each

Brouchure design & print: £1500-3500/10,000

Flyer print: £500/500

Catering £2-7.50/person
Venue costs

Internal - contact room bookings

External: £60-600/day depending on requirements.

Website hosting £350-1000 depending on requirements
Website development £3000-5000
App development £1000-10,000
Film production £1000/minute
Advertising £90-4000
Evaluation £50-500
Conference fees As required
Travel As required

Commercial or economic impact activities:  For detailed costs or further advice please contact your faculty gateway or departmental business development manager.

Example Activity Resources Approximate cost
  • Industry Vvsits
  • Attendance at trade events
  • Workshops with potential partners
  • Creating case studies with partners
  • Promotional films
  • Customer focused website
  • Creation of a prototype
  • Secondments
Travel & subsistence £20-200/person
External knowledge transfer advisors Contact specialist for rates
Conference fees As required
Venue & catering As for public engagement activities
Advertising material & promotion £90-4000
Professional time £300/case study
Film production £1000/minute
Website development costs £3000-5000
Design professionals  to help with prototype & promotion £500-1000/day for design professionals
Travel & subsistence £20-200/day
Staff costs Staff cost for duration of secondment

Stakeholder input and networking: For detailed costs please contact your faculty gateway or departmental business manager.

Example activity Resources Approx. Cost
  • Advisory board/steering group
  • User/consumer/patient groups
  • Scoping workshops
  • Networking events
  • Lobbying
Venue

Internal - contact room bookings

External £60-600/day dependant on requirements.

Catering £3-15/person
Travel £20-200/person

Posters/leaflets

Poster design & print: £150 each

Brouchure design & print: £1500-3500/10,000

Flyer print: £500/500

Marketing £90-4000

Staff development: Non-academic training (media, communications, web design, marketing, social media)

Example Activity
Resource Approx. Cost
  • Training
  • Secondment

Course fees

Contact provider

Travel & subsistance

£20-200/day

Individual Research Council information

There is a wealth of guidance available on the Research Council websites. We recommend you read the relevant information for your potential funder.

Research Councils UK

Pathways to Impact guidance

AHRC

Impact assessment

Case studies

BBSRC

PTI scoring criteria

Impact examples

EPSRC

Guidance for applicants and reviewers

Eligible costs

ESRC

Pathways to impact toolkit

MRC

Application Guidance 2017 Pathways to Impact page 22

Impact from translational research case studies

NERC

Guidance to Panels (see page 8)

Pathways to impact guidance
Case studies
Guidance on public engagement

STFC

Guidance on applications
Case studies

NC3Rs

Guidance in handbook on pages 15, 20 & 36

Who to contact

There are a number of staff within the University who can help with your Pathways to Impact.