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What is impact?

12th April 2021

Authors: Helen Beddow & Sharon Parkinson, Emerald Publishing

Impact is the promised land of research. It means that you’ve arrived, but it also means you’re going places.

Impact is the provable benefits of research in the real world. It’s not judged by traditional methods – such as citations – simply appraised by factors we can see and feel in wider society. Impact emerges differently across various disciplines, but ultimately it is about connecting academic research to the world around us.

It is also driven by other dynamics, including funder requirements, research assessments and, of course, societal shifts and changing environments. While these are clear points of focus, the real significance comes from making impact meaningful to you, your partners and your research. We believe that maximum benefit comes from planning impact – enabling you to create and navigate compelling pathways for your research.

Consider the definition of ‘impact’…

In its truest sense Impact = change.

The process by which change happens, however, is covered by another concept — ‘knowledge mobilisation‘. There are many plot points for this methodology, including engagement, community-based research, knowledge transfer, commercialisation, dissemination and communication.

Essentially, knowledge mobilisation is the fertile breeding ground for impact and the opportunities it is given to thrive within the context of research.

Impact literacy is how we describe the ability to understand, appraise and make decisions about how your research resonates with the outside world.

Framing your research and giving it context is hugely beneficial on your journey to impact and particularly in sustaining it. Indeed, it is a considerable skill for individuals and institutions to appreciate and engage with the language of impact — it helps your research speak to people (quite literally!). For individuals, this encourages a much deeper level of understanding about how research can connect with society and, for institutions, it means creating an enduring impact culture which inspires and makes a difference.

Impact culture

Impact is omnipresent, it’s a lifestyle choice and it operates at all levels of a research organisation. With impact ambitions increasingly focused on the link between research/researcher and impact, the role of the institution can be often overlooked. Building an institutional impact culture and appreciation of impact literacy, shapes the space, strategy and support needed for research projects to develop a life of their own.

Irrespective of type, size or funding — institutions must establish meaningful ways to connect research to the world outside academia. Impact expertise, however, cannot be the responsibility of one person – it is only achievable through teamwork, partnerships and plenty of high fives. There is no single way to yield impact and, equally, there isn’t an institutional template to make it happen. Impact requires a unique approach to each project, and that’s part of the exciting challenge.

A thriving impact culture recognises, values and supports the engagement of those beyond the institution’s walls. This includes developing formal arrangements with organisational partners, embracing potential audiences, and showcasing research through various communication channels.

In an ideal world, a healthy institution will allow impact to become inseparable from its wider culture, while staff will champion the merits of impact literacy.

For more information about the GBSN webinar ‘Developing an Impact Mindset for Research’ contact Helen Beddow or Sharon Parkinson.