Impact planning toolkit

Identifying the potential impact of your research can help with planning and prioritising knowledge exchange, public engagement and dissemination activities. 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 othertimes 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 changing opinions
  • 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 efficiency
  • public policy and legislation, for example influencing a change in law
  • operational and organisational change, for example improved manufacturing process
  • practitioner/professional services improvement, for example a change in services
  • societial, for example changes in awareness and understanding
  • technological, for example wider reach of research.

To understand the different potential stakeholders for your research, consider the potential changes that could result from your research.

  • What do you want to achieve?
  • What is the current context?
  • 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?
  • Can you identify specific groups you would like to work with from the broad categories in the above stakeholder map?
  • Why would your research be important to each group?
  • How do 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:

  • How likely are the groups identified to be affected by the research?
  • How interested are the different groups likely to be in your research?
  • What capacity do they have to use 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.

There are many types of engagement activity. You should select the type that best suits your research and the stakeholder's needs.

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?

Types of activities

Activity Description/example

Arts-based knowledge exchange

A means of conveying research using the creativity of artists or the creative sector.
Collaborative research project A set piece of research work with an existing or prospective external organisation or stakeholder.
Commercialisation Market research, patents, license agreements, IP and spin-out companies.
Community of interest collaboration A social learning process whereby a group of people with a common interest come together to share, develop and advance a knowledge base.
Educational material/outreach Educational gatherings for the purpose of conveying evidence and knowledge.
Events Workshops, interactive small group events, public lectures, debates, practitioner conferences.
Film and audio Films or animations that explain and explore your research. These can be used to provide background information on complex research.
Media Use of television, radio or print to raise awareness of the research or attract media participation e.g. public/practitioner awareness campaigns.
Networking Interactions with external groups to advance your profile or meet collaborators.
Opinion leader/champion External supporters that are well connected, credible and persuasive. They are considered knowledgeable, trustworthy, accessible and have a willingness to share knowledge with the community.
Patient-mediated intervention Any intervention aimed at changing the performance of healthcare providers using patient-focused interventions to improve clinical practice.
Policy brief A document providing a rationale to choose a particular policy or intervention.
Practice tools/decision aids Tools which make the application of research user friendly.
Practitioner training Facilitated training provided to practitioner groups in order to change attitudes, knowledge or practice behaviour.
Press release A written or recorded communication directed at members of the media for the purposes of announcing something with news value.
Proof of concept project Development of commercial ideas to the point at which they can engage with external collaborators and gain further investment.
Public engagement Engaging the public with your research through university, faculty or departmental platforms. Support available from the Public Engagement Team.
Secondments Transfer of people in and out of the University to enhance the application of research knowledge.
Social media Using technology to share or co-create knowledge, for example via Twitter, websites, blogs, surveys. See the social media and impact toolkit.
Stakeholder interaction Increasing stakeholder participation through steering groups, workshops, sandpits etc.
Working with a knowledge exchange professional Faculty specialists who can link researchers with external partners.

Important considerations

Nurturing impact can take time. 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 stakeholder agenda is already developed without considering research evidence
  • The stakeholder has concerns over confidentiality
  • 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 to your project timeframe
  • A key contact leaves the organisation and the relationships with the stakeholder groups breaks 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?

  • What is the baseline? It is important to understand the current situation so as to 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.

  • 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?

Recording evidence

Evidence of impact can be collated and stored in the impact module of myPublications.

Q5. What support do I need?

If you want to discuss getting started with knowledge exchange or public engagement, contact your Faculty team.

  • Do you or your team need training?
  • Does the University already have a relationship with potential partner?
  • Do you need advice on any of your activities?
  • Do you want help managing your relationships?
  • Do you need advice on confidentiality?

Who to contact

If you have any queries about the above, then please contact your departmental impact lead or the Impact and IP Team within Research Services.

Contact us