What is Research Impact?
Research impact is about making a difference. To this extent, one could argue that academic researchers have always sought to undertake research that has impact. After all, what is the point in doing research if it doesn't make some difference? However, in recent years the academic world has undergone a paradigm shift insofar as the emphasis on impact as an implicit outcome of research has changed to one where researchers are required to incorporate impact explicitly into their research to justify and secure funding.
RCUK defines impact as “the demonstrable contribution that excellent research makes to society and the economy”. Academic impact is the demonstrable contribution that excellent social and economic research makes in shifting understanding and advancing scientific, method, theory and application across and within disciplines; economic and societal impact (“wider impact”) is the demonstrable contribution that excellent social and economic research makes to society and the economy, and its benefits to individuals, organisations and/or nations.
Many funders – in the UK and internationally – include dedicated impact sections in the application process. Applicants need to explain what impact their research will have within and beyond academia, who will benefit, and what they will be doing to generate and promote impact underpinned by the research conducted. For example, ESRC and AHRC generally include an academic impact section, a pathways to impact section (what you will do to generate and promote impact) and an impact summary (what will be the impact and who will benefit).
Furthermore, since 2014 Impact is also a component of the Research Excellence Framework. In addition to research outputs, institutions are also asked to submit Impact Case Studies (ICSs) to assess the impact of research outside of academia. The 2021 Research Excellence Framework (REF) defines impact as 'an effect on, change or benefit to the economy, society, culture, public policy or services, health, the environment or quality of life, beyond academia'. Impact includes, but is not limited to, an effect on, change or benefit to:
- the activity, attitude, awareness, behaviour, capacity, opportunity, performance, policy, practice, process or understanding …
- of an audience, beneficiary, community, constituency, organisation or individuals …
- in any geographic location whether locally, regionally, nationally or internationally.
How to create impact beyond academia?
There are various pathways in which research can contribute to impact beyond academia – through dissemination of research findings in a language and format that is understandable to non-academic audiences, through advising and influencing the decision-making of organisations and institutions on the basis of the research findings, or through engaging with local communities and the wider society to change perceptions, raise awareness and encourage positive change.
Public Engagement with Research and Impact
Public engagement is indeed key to creating impact. Engaging the public with your research can improve the quality of research and its impact, raise your profile, and develop your skills. It also enables members of the public to act as informed citizens and can inspire the next generation of researchers. The National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement (NCCPE) defines public engagement as:" the myriad of ways in which the activity and benefits of higher education and research can be shared with the public. Engagement is by definition a two-way process, involving interaction and listening, with the goal of generating mutual benefit."
SOAS is a signatory of the NCCPE’s Manifesto. We seek to inform and inspire, consult and collaborate with the public. We believe that embedding public engagement into research will be of long-term benefit in enhancing our impact culture.
For some guidance on embedding public engagement into your research, please consult Public Engagement – advice for funding bid.
How we can help with impact
Ways in which the Impact Team in the Research Information and Strategy Unit can help:
- General support and training to understand research impact and impact in REF 2021;
- Support for the development and shortlisting of Impact Case Studies for REF 2021;
- Consultation and advice on embedding impact into research proposals; proof-reading of Impact Summaries and Pathways to Impact sections of ESRC, AHRC and other grant applications;
- Advice on capturing evidence of impact throughout the life-cycle of the research;
- We also provide internal funding for impact and engagement activities via specific funds managed by the Research Information and Strategy Unit such as the Engagement and Impact Fund.
For more information, please contact email@example.com