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.
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.
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:
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:
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:
Impact documents should not:
|How are they used and what difference do they make?||
Peer reviewers are asked to assess whether:
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)
2) Pathways to Impact (maximum 2 A4 page attachment)
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:
For each activity, identify items for which you can request additional funds (see below).
Do's and Don'ts
|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.
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.
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.
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 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:
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
|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:
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.
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
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:
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.
Commercial or economic impact activities: For detailed costs or further advice please contact your faculty gateway or departmental business development manager.
Stakeholder input and networking: For detailed costs please contact your faculty gateway or departmental business manager.
Staff development: Non-academic training (media, communications, web design, marketing, social media)
|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.
Who to contact
There are a number of staff within the University who can help with your Pathways to Impact.
- For advice on impact within your field: Your Departmental Impact Lead
- For advice on developing external partnerships and collaboratons: Your Faculty gateway or knowledge exchange team
- For general advice and feedback on style and content: Faculty Research Growth Officer
- For advice on public engagement activities: Public Engagement Team
- To have a Pathways to Impact reviewed centrally: Impact Consultant in Research Services