Impact planning toolkit

Identifying the potential impact of your research can help you properly prioritise and plan your knowledge exchange, public engagement and dissemination activities. This toolkit has been developed around 5 questions to help researchers understand their impact, consider new and existing audiences 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 impact from research can be clearly identified, other times you may need to consider the context of the situation or challenge the status quo. Impact is rarely occurs in isolation or in a linear way. You may need to consider how the research will contribute to the change or influence.

Impact can take many forms - types of impact

To help understand difference audiences for you research, it can helpful to 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 audiences being aware of or using your research?
Q2. Who else is interested in this?

Being able to identify your audiences as stakeholders and beneficiaries can help target your plans effectively. 

Stakeholders are organisations, groups or individuals who have something to gain or lose through the outcomes of the research

Beneficiaries are groups or individuals either local, national or global who ultimately are affected, influenced or experience an improvement from the research with or without direct contact.

Map of potential beneficiaries and stakeholders - Link

You can start to identify these groups by thinking about:

  • Who else has a common goal or mutual interest?
  • Can you identify specific groups you would like to work with from broad categories?
  • 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 try and interact with all the identified groups. 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 any risks to the impact.

Q3. How can I engage audiences with my research?

There are many different ways to engage your stakeholders and beneficiaries with your research; having identified which group you want to engage, you can tailor you activities to enable them to take up and use your research most easily. 


There are many types of engagement activities and you should select the type that best suits your research, and stakeholder and beneficaries.

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 you 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

Nurturing impact can take time. You should decide whether you or a member of your team is best to take part in these activities.

Stakeholders and beneficiaries are not always able to take up the findings of a piece of research. Stakeholder time-frames may also differ to your project time-frame. It is useful to consider how to manage expectations and when to engage with the groups identified?

  • Continuous or ad hoc through social media, publications or interviews?
  • At the beginning, during or at the end of projects?
  • How will you keep in touch after the project is completed?

Thinking early about what could prevent the impact occurring can help plan flexibility into engagement and manage stakeholder concerns.

Websites and Social media can be a useful way to engage with wide reaching audiences,  using and monitoring social media

Potential Risks to Impact

  • Stakeholder agenda already developed without considering research evidence.
  • Stakeholder concerns over confidentiality.
  • Research may challenge views of the groups and not be taken up.
  • Stakeholders and beneficiaries cannot use research communication material.
Q4. What can I measure?

It can be easier to gather the evidence of your activities as they occur than try to find it months after the event. It is important to collect this evidence to help demonstrate a clear link from your research to the broader 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 this information at this stage can help signpost where evidence of impact can be found later on.

What things can be measured?

  • What is the baseline? It is important to understand the current situation so as to identify the influence, affects or changes.
  • 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:

  • 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?

Q5. What support do I need?

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

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

Cliona Boyle
Institution Impact Co-ordinator