Achieving impact in research / edited by Pam Denicolo


This book is now available in the library at H62.A29 2014 and will be useful to anyone struggling to grasp what is meant by impact in research.

It begins by a look at definitions:

  • AHRC “By impact we mean the influence of research or its effect on an individual, a community, the development of policy, or the creation of a new product or service. It relates to the effects of research on our economic, social and cultural lives”.
  • RCUK “Impact is the demonstrable contribution that excellent research makes to society and the economy”.
  • REF2014 “an effect on, change or benefit to the economy, society, culture, public policy or services, health, the environment or quality of life, beyond academia”

 The book discusses some of the concerns surrounding impact, for example that  curiosity led research will be abandoned for research with clear gains. It also examines whether concern about impact is a change in thinking about research and decides that, although impact has been important to funders for a long time, there is a new emphasis on it.

Different subject areas and the type of impact they might have are examined in chapter 3.  The authors suggest that arts and humanities aim for cultural, economic and social enrichment so impact could come  out of lectures, books, workshops, partnerships with schools or museums. Social sciences would be looking more at instrumental impact, perhaps in influencing the development of policy or altering behaviour. The sciences should be considering knowledge exchange, technology development and transfer. The authors remind us that the funding councils all have impact studies to help people to get a feel for what constitutes impact in their area.

Some of the complexities around measuring impact are considered. In some areas impact will take a long time to be felt, for example, in new mathematical theories. It is clear that impact is subjective and depends on the purpose of the impact assessment.  Often it will take a combination of several pieces of work to have an impact on society so the REF asks for evidence of a link between impact and a particular institution. Many types of impact are hard to quantify and measure. It is important to have a plan at the beginning of your research for how you might capture and measure any impact and it is useful to consider what baseline data you have so that you can measure what you have achieved.

Chapter 9 discusses the skills you might need to be an impactful researcher. Explaining expertise has always been important. Social skills, networking, communication, quantitative and qualitative research skills, self  promotion, and a “sales persona” are all potentially useful. It also reminds us that development of the researcher is an impact in itself.

Leave a comment if you have any insights on impact to share with your fellow researchers.


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