The impactful academic podcast
As researchers are increasingly expected to demonstrate the wider societal impact of their research, rather than solely being rewarded for academic publication, The Impactful Academic serves as a guide for those who want to plan for and demonstrate impact.
In this podcast, Wade Kelly, editor, alongside Lucy Jowett and Alisha Peart (chapter contributors), join host, Ian Boucher, to discuss the forthcoming book, writing impact for grants, their advice to academics and institutions starting out in impact, (and those already on their journey), along with the common pitfalls, who is involved, what ‘good’ looks like, and why impact is so important to them.
Lucy Jowett, Research Impact Manager, Northumbria University, UK
Alisha Peart, Research Impact Manager, Northumbria University, UK
Wade Kelly, Director, Research Excellence and Impact, Monash University, Australia
Ian Boucher, Impact Liaison and Business Development Manager, Impact Services
In this episode:
- The current impact landscape around the world
- How academics feel about impact, the skills required in delivering impact, and how to start
- Funders, their definition of impact, and what to think about when developing a funding bid
- The myth of a generic impact template
- Pitfalls in impactful research planning and top tips.
The impactful academic
Ian Boucher (IB): Hello, everybody. Welcome to the latest Emerald podcast. We're here today to talk all things research impact, and specifically to talk about a new book that's coming out called, The Impactful academic. With us, we have the editor of that book and two chapter authors. So, I'm now going to pass over to my guests to introduce themselves. And I'll first pass over to Dr. Wade Kelly from Monash University.
Wade Kelly (WK): Thank you so much for introducing me today and welcoming us to the podcast. My name is Wade Kelly and the Director of Research Excellence and Impact at Monash University. I'm the editor of the book The Impactful Academic- Building a Research Career That Makes a Difference. And I'm also an author of a few of the chapters. I'm delighted to be here to talk about that work and impact in general.
IB: Thanks, Wade. And now I'm going to pass over to Alicia Peart from Northumbria University.
Alisha Peart (AP): Hi, thanks again. And thanks, Wade, for that introduction to our book chapter, which is ‘Writing impact for grants, pack your bags, we're going on an impact journey’. I'm Alicia Peart. And as Ian said I’m Research Impact Manager at Northumbria University, where I recently led our Research Excellence Framework, our research assessment, exercise submission on research impact. But as well as that over the last five years, we've been really leading a change in how we think about impact, and we integrate it in how we do research at Northumbria. But prior to that, I came from a different sector from the further education sector in the UK, where I was writing grant proposals and they were all about how we were going to make a difference, how we were going to have an impact. So that's really a lot of the knowledge has come from my grant writing experience, and then more about impact in research specifically. And I'll now hand over to Lucy.
Lucy Jowett (LJ): Well, it's great to be here talking with you today. I'm Lucy Jowett. And along with Alicia, I'm also a Research Impact Manager at Northumbria University in the North-East of England. Where I've been fortunate to be in this role for the last eight years. Through that time, I've seen a real change in the recognition and understanding of research impact in research culture in the UK. So, I work across Northumbria University, and we support researchers to embed impact in their work throughout the research lifecycle. From funding bids to research assessment impact case studies, my background’s in a range of roles in public services and regional strategic policymaking, which means I've been at the sharp end of initiatives that make a difference to the economy and society. And I know how important research informed policymaking is. And that's really stoked my interest in research impact in the first place.
IB: Thank you, Lucy, and thank you everybody, for introducing yourselves. We're going to be talking about research impact in general, but specifically about a new book called The Impactful Academic. So what is the book? Who is it for? And who should be looking at this book? So Wade…
WK: The first question, “who is it for?”, is a good place to start. When we started thinking about this book and what's already on the market, we started thinking about the kinds of approaches that a lot of books take. And they're really based on, a lot of cases, they're based on one project or thinking about a grant or thinking about an individual research area. But what we really want to think about with this book was what does research look like across the lifespan? So if you think of yourself, as an academic who wants to generate impact as part of your career, what does that look like, not just within the context of a project, but throughout the lifespan? And so the target is, is early career researchers. But I do think and our testimonials at the beginning of the book, suggest this as well, that a lot of seasoned academics will get some unique, full, useful tips, hints, suggestions on how they can shape their academic practice as well. I also think that it's going to be useful for a lot of people who are in the research profession who support researchers, there's not a lot of books aimed at this demographic. And yet, they're incredibly important. The approach I took in soliciting authors for this book was to get people from a variety of different backgrounds. So we've both got academic authors, as well as people like Lucy, and Alicia who come from professional backgrounds, who have a lot of knowledge to share about how to mobilize research out of the universities, and into practice to make a difference in the world. So those are the two key things, who is it for? And kind of the approach that we took in putting it together.
IB: Yeah. And would you say that it's really important to have that balance of academic contribution and professional support service contribution to a book that, that really from what I can see, is covering the whole impact lifecycle?
WK: My job is to help my university become impact ready and embed impact into the organizational structure and my approach is both a top down and bottom-up approach. And I always say it's all hands-on deck. It’s not a researcher who needs to be doing impact. It's not librarian, that needs to be doing impact. It's everyone, it's the senior admins to the PhD students. Impact done well, and at an organization is drawing on all those skills. So why wouldn't we draw on all those skills in a book that's helping people prepare to have an impactful career to that point? Lucy, Alicia, what was your experience of being involved in a book and being asked to write something that will have this kind of, a hopefully, this kind of a reach?
LJ: From my perspective, it was a really exciting opportunity to put down in writing a lot of the tips and thinking that Alicia, and I use in our everyday practice, in terms of supporting academic colleagues across the university, and we shape it in a way that brings everything together in one place, which we realized we hadn't actually done before. And reflecting on the journey that our researchers go through in developing the impact from their research throughout their careers, I think I must have one of the best jobs in the world. Because I get to work across the whole university, with these windows into the fantastic and exciting research that's going on in all these different disciplines. And to be able to bring the experience into one place to share our chapter with others, almost like a little handbook, specifically looking at how research funding works in relation to impact. It's been a real joy, just to bring that thinking together, and offer it to others, hopefully, they'll find it useful to refer to.
AP: What I found really exciting about this chapter is all the things that Lucy's talked about, but also working with Wade, we were talking about how we can make this interesting and, and really engaging for the audience. And I find impact is like the most exciting bit of research to me, you know, research really should be making a difference, it is a journey that you go on. So, when I was considering, like how we should shape the chapter and how we take it forward, it was so exciting to think of how you describe that journey that people go on. And so that's the format that we've taken. And then thinking about the journey and planning a trip and planning your impact has just been such an exciting way to get down on paper, kind of the way I think about impact, the way I work with the academics that I do at Northumbria the way I support it across the institution.
IB: But it's really interesting that everybody's talking about how interesting impact is and how, how much they enjoy discussing impact and talking to researchers about impact. That's certainly my experience from my former career working with researchers and helping to support them on impact, it was having those conversations about impact was really one of the most rewarding and exciting things about working with researchers. And it's interesting that everybody on the panel is reflecting that and coming back with the same thoughts really. I'm going to ask probably a more difficult question now. And a more wide-ranging question. So looked a little bit about what the books doing. So, what I'm interested in is the first chapter of the book talks about the impact landscape and where impact sits and where it might be going. And I know that's a massive question to ask for what is a relatively short podcast, but I’d just like to get a flavor of where from your individual perspectives, and particularly within your regions, you think impact sits currently and where you think it might be moving to.
WK: So my institution, Monash University, our institutional plan is called Impact 2030. And everything that we will be doing at that institution for my institution for the next eight years, is really supposed to be focused around impact generation. So it's not a flash in the pan. It is something that is here, it's present. And it isn't going away. And so I think that a few years ago, researchers kind of went in, “Oh, it's a fad, it's gonna go away”. And then when I talk with researchers about global trends, I try and impress upon them that this is not new, that places like Canada, they might have been calling it something different. They might have been calling it knowledge mobilization, translation, synthesis, exchange, whatever. In the States, they might be calling it broader impact. Some of these things have been around for 20, some odd years. It's not new. And we can learn a lot from those other areas of the world that are doing impactful research. Often, they're talking about the journey rather than destin- back to your metaphor, Alicia, the journey rather than destination, impact is the destination. But the journey is really important. And that's what we've talked about in the book. And what I'm trying to impress upon people, when I work with them in higher education is, is that we need to focus on the mechanisms to help people on that journey to generate impact. There's a lot of conversation around funders and governments and the drivers and impact are not just an assessment. It's not just the REF. It's not just the engagement and impact assessment. It's, it's philanthropic funders, it's institutional priorities. It's this philosophical question of “what is our compact with society?” What? Why? Why do we exist? What do we owe our taxpayers, our funders, the people who, who give us the money to make research happen. And so it's the impact in the world is part of a much bigger, I think, movement that we probably won't really understand until years from now, in higher education and the direction higher education is headed.
AP: And I'd sort of add in the, in the UK, from obviously, in the UK, a lot of ours is assessment driven our kind of motivators within higher education impact, whereas other places in the world you mentioned such as Canada, it's bit more mission focused that they're going with their impact. But that said, it is becoming more embedded that it's, you know, is what good research should look like, and then it is just the right thing to do. But at the UK government level, the new sort of strategies, they're releasing a rule about innovation for the UK, and the innovation is, you know, impact is that sort of global Britain and the difference that research and other things within the UK can make for UK PLC for the businesses. So it's, it's really in the UK, such a kind of fundamental government strategy, which our main funders UKRI have then sort of fed through on how they want to see impact and innovation being achieved and how they're going to fund it and how they're going to help the government meet its, its strategy. And then at the end of the sort of seven-year cycle, that there is the research assessment framework, this this sort of assessment of what's been achieved. And in back in 2014, impact was introduced for the very first time. And as Wade said, everyone probably thought it was a bit of a flash in the pan, it certainly came as a shock to everybody. And then it came again in 2021. But it actually got more important it gone from 20% of the assessment to 25% of the assessment. So you really seeing that growth happening.
LJ: I think the impact is an embedded important area of focus. And it's also a growing area of focus, certainly in the UK, and the contacts we've had with colleagues in other parts of Europe to indicate that it is. And indeed, in Hong Kong and other parts of the world, it seems to be gaining momentum internationally. However, we haven't quite got there yet. I think even in the UK, where we've been working with this for some time, the trick is now to embed impact as part of what good research culture looks like, rather than some sort of add on or after thought or additional task that has to be done. And I think a lot more remains to be done to celebrate and reward impactful research and impactful research is too.
IB: So we were talking about integrating effective impact planning into research funding bids, and whether that skill set exists across the research community. So I'll pass back to Lucy to talk about that a bit.
LJ: I don't think it does universally exist across the whole research community, we see pockets of very experienced researchers who have a lot of previous experience of delivering impactful research, we see a lot of early career researchers who are really excited by research impact and want to embed it into the research that they do from now on into the future. But it's quite variable, sometimes we find there can be a knowledge gap. And we need to work with researchers individually, sometimes to help them to really understand what impact is, that it's the change that's occurring, that benefit that's occurring, as a result of their research, beyond academia, or sometimes unpicking what it is and what it isn't, is really important too so we can get to the nub of it. And understanding of course, that research can generate impact at all points during the research lifecycle. So it's not just a question of thinking about it at the beginning, perhaps when putting in a research funding bid, or at the end when reporting back on what you've done. But to think about it as a whole career process, where you can make a difference with a wide range of stakeholders potentially across your whole career.
AP: Yeah, Lucy, so I agree with everything and that's and that's sort of how we wrote about it in our in our chapter. But I also think as well, some of those, those skills that you need to be able to think about how you're planning it and what impact is and how you achieve it and that stakeholder engagement and who you need to speak to and why you need to speak to them and when, is, is a skill that's that's learned over time. It's not necessarily taught, as you know, through PhDs and as you start to go into research. So it is definitely something that it needs to be supported for academics in learning how to engage with the right people at the right time to find out why they're wanting to do research and who it really would make a difference for. And, also thinking about unintended consequences as well, which I think is really important as well. There are cases where it hasn't been considered about what the possible negative impacts could be of that work by not speaking to the right people at the right time. So it really is important to kind of think about it in the round. Wade, I know you've got some thoughts on this as well…
WK: It's such an interesting time right now in higher education, because you're right, I think a lot of the systems that support the generation of impact are nascent. A lot of the research training is new. And we're kind of still building those skills, a lot of the skills that are required for impact exist in other areas of the university. You guys, your chapter talks a lot about the writing of, of impact. And in preparing that impact statement, the genre of an impact statement is kind of a new thing for a lot of people. And so there's a lot of work that needs to be done by lots of actors of institutions. I think that the benefit of this chapter is that it helps fill that gap for people who didn't have that experience as part of their training or development. And it gives them a really nice starting point of how to start thinking about this, this project planning, the amount of times that people come to me and go, “Oh, I've got my impact statements, the last thing I've got to do”, and I go “Well, then you're not going to get the funding, because it needs to be the first thing, or maybe at least the second thing that you think about”. And then you can bake it in appropriately throughout and talking with people like Alicia or Lucy or someone like me at your institution who can help you with that thinking is a really interesting process. I also am wondering, I'm, as we're talking about this. And I remember going back to conversations that Lucy and Alicia and myself had when we were planning the chapter, one of the things that we were talking about was how often people are so into their research. And they know so much about one specific area. And they're so focused on that little, tiny problem, that they can't zoom out and tell us why they're doing it, what the bigger, sociological, ecological, whatever the whatever the problem, wherever it's situated, is they can't tell you what the view of the research is from 50,000 feet. They can tell you what they're doing, they can tell you what they want, how they want to solve it, how they want to address how they would the output that it might generate, whom they might work with. But often they can't tell you. Why they’re, why is it they’re doing it? What the problem is the world? At least, Lucy, is that something that you guys have found in doing consultations and working with researchers?
AP: Yes, it really is. And I think one of the things I quite often say to our academics is, “So what?”, which I think might annoy them slightly, but there'll be talking about what they're going to do. And again, it's on quite a micro scale. But I'll be saying, “So what?”, you know, “What is that bigger picture?” “Why, why are you wanting to do that?” “What is the, you know, this very tiny little thing you're wanting to achieve?” But, but why? And another question that I've quite often asked them is, “If you're speaking to your friends who are completely outside of academia, and have nothing to do with your piece of research, what do you tell them about what you want to achieve and why you're doing it?” And, and when you sort of ask them in that way, and they think about it very differently, they, they then do think sort of zooming out, like to the sort of long term goal or the say what, you know, a very simple analogy might be, you know, ultimately you want to find the cure to a certain type of cancer or, you know, so there's health benefits, you know, you want to sort of really have a health impact. But when you're speaking about the research, they're really down to, you know, the nub of, of that particular very specific piece of research. But when you say “So what?”, and “How do you describe that to your friends?”, they can really kind of zoom it, zoom it out, and it might not be as big, not all impacts needs to be as big as I'm finding the cure to cancer. But, you know, they do draw it out when you ask that question.
WK: Julie Bayley likes to talk about passing the baton. So for fundamental and bench scientists is really important to be able to zoom out and say we need to know about this cell or this protein, this enzyme so that we can pass that baton to the next researcher. And we can go from a chemist to a medical researcher, to a pharmacist, pharmaceutical researcher, etc, etc.
LJ: So some of the most exciting conversations I have with researchers is stepping back and looking at the big picture and wondering about what potential pathways to impact there could possibly be for their research, and this is being quite blue skies and itself, potentially even fanciful, but just getting the opportunity to have a discussion about the many different pathways to impact that there could be, what changes could happen in the world, in the near term, in the medium term, in the long term, by working with all sorts of ranges of different stakeholders, and taking different actions that could then snowball into other actions, it can really be quite exciting, and start to generate discussions about possibilities that researchers who've been quite focused in on one particular area of research in detail, as Wade, just described, may not have considered the exciting potential of what could happen following through, I've had some tremendous discussions, for example, with a colleague who was doing some research into local accents, local British accents, and how they can potentially cause people to be discriminated against. He just wanted to raise awareness of that, when we started to look at it and really delve into it, he realized that what he wanted to do, really, was to change legislation in the UK to make accents a protected characteristic. So, it actually would become illegal to discriminate against people on that basis. And that is now how he's planning his impacts into the future, to try to achieve that end and influence policy on a big scale. So, it can be great to take that time to talk with either colleagues like Alicia and myself, Wade, or perhaps with other academic colleagues, who've also already had some experience of developing impacts from their research just to have that bouncing back and forth conversations about what's possible.
IB: So, we've talked a lot and alluded to the fact that research policy is starting, especially in the UK, to really push the drive towards research, funding and research in general, to be geared towards thinking about impact innovation, knowledge exchange, and these sorts of things. So, what I'm interested in exploring a little bit is how we see funders responding to that, and our funders responding in the right way and giving researchers a clear steer on how to integrate impact into their bids. And what is the kind of landscape around funding and integration of impact? Or is it still as it as it was, a few years ago, the Wild West, where there's an awful lot of different requirements from different funders, and the complexities are still high. So, I'm interested in how you see that and who would like to jump in on that one?
AP: So yeah, really, it has been such a journey for funders, and different funders have approached it, you know, quite differently. And there are still funders that, you know, very much are on fundamental research, and they're not sort of touching impact. But going to our sort of biggest sort of research funder UKRI, they really are sort of taking forward to sort of mantle on making sure it's embedded, and they removed pathways to impact in 2020. And for some academics, they thought “Yay, that means they're not focusing on impact anymore”. And to anybody who's listening who thinks that, you know, really sorry, no, that actually means that they really want it as integrated in your research. And it's not a standalone, you know, pathway to impact section that you fill out at the end of the proposal. And, and by removing it, what UKRI wanted to see was the impact was threaded through the research application, it really was thought about as you start to think about why you're doing the research as you're responding to the call that they're writing. And it's, it's spoken about all the way through. Now UKRI have just completed their survey. And I think we'll be seeing the results of that soon. Where they were asked, they went out to UK to academics and professional support teams and ask “How do we think that's gone?”, and we wait to see their, their results. But certainly, from my point of view, I think they'll find that it's probably not gone quite as well as they maybe thought it had and there was possibly lots of comments about needs to be more communication and making it much more specific that that impact still is fundamentally important to a lot of the calls that they do, and a lot more explicit advice and guidance on how to do it. I think the other thing as well is, is some of the different funding councils within UKRI speak about it slightly different and have slightly different guidance, a slightly different toolkits. So, I'm personally hoping that that through that consultation, they'll maybe bring it much more together and make it a bit more cohesive and a one place that we can signpost people to, to find out about impacts for UKRI not this sort of separate funding councils. But we wait and see for that one, but certainly overstepping over into Europe and sort of the Horizon Europe programs, you know, they have a whole pillar of funding that is just dedicated to impact and to innovation. And they, you know, that's been around for quite a while. And they're very explicit on, on the needs for impact in that one.
LJ: Yeah. So, Alicia, I agree with everything you've said there. And of course, there are other funders who are very mission specific, for example, charitable foundations, and so on, who wished to see their investments aligning with their strategies and goals, to make a difference to what they've been set up for. And in those cases, it's usually very explicit about what they expect, in terms of impact coming out of the research that's been conducted or funded through their money. Because of course, they want to ensure that their funding’s making a difference to the reason that they're there.
WK: In chapter one, I talk about how there are lots of different definitions of impact. But the, the important thing for researchers to know is what their definition of impact is, and then fitting that within whatever the definition of the is provided by the funder. In Australia, we've got a couple of different big research funders, we've got the ARC, the NHMRC, we've got the MRFFs. Those are kind of our ‘cat one grants’, are what those are called. But then we've also got tons of philanthropic partners, we've got industry partners, other government bodies, state government, all of our internal grants have an impact requirement as well-the definition of impact is inconsistent. And that's seen as difficult for a lot of people. And I don't think it's honestly going to get all that much easier. I think that that's okay, I think it's about knowing where you're applying for what the expectations are. And, and being able to, to, to write to that genre. So, writing for a rotary club grant is going to be very different than writing for major cat one grant, it's just being able to understand what they're asking for and giving that to them. That's basic grant writing. I think, for some reason we've we think that impact is different somehow,
AP: I totally agree with that. I mean, that any application you're going for, for, for research grants, it really does come down to the criteria and the specific grant, you know, the call that's in there, what’s their, their aims and achievements, they're quite specific about, like what they want as their outcomes and their outputs. And the impact is the outcome at the end. And there'll be quite specific about talking about that. And, and that's what you need to be looking for and aiming any application for that. And, you know, in the chapter we talk about there being no boilerplate text, because you can't just copy and paste, you can't just sort of do the same thing and just send it to a different funder, it really has to be specific. And all of them do have different aims and objectives. Because it's what they're wanting to achieve. What they want to see happening from the funding
IB: What is interesting that you talk about the idea that there isn't a boilerplate text, Alicia, because I just wondered where that came from. Because if you think about research applications and applying for funding, it's kind of obvious that every single research application has got to be individualized and met and delivered to the funder’s requirements, and also the particular research you're planning to carry out. So, I just wonder where this idea around there being a standardized thing for impact comes from, both for funders and for impact assessment as well.
AP: I don't know where the idea comes from. But I certainly know that it's, it's something I'm regularly asked for. And even in my experience, when I was writing the funding applications that weren't specifically research, it was constantly like, “Can't we just copy that section from the previous one?” You know, can't “Is there not a standard template, I can write up” and it has copied over into impact. “Can you just send me somebody else's example and I'll write it up”. I don't know why it happens that they kind of think that it's a template and you could follow it, or you could have boilerplate text and you just copy and paste it. I think it, it comes with everybody when you're busy, you know, and you've got a lot to do when you read the guidance. You think, “Gosh, there's so much to write about in this. Can I, can I shortcut it?” But unfortunately, you can't shortcut it because it is so specific to what needs to be achieved, how you're going to achieve, and, and for impact, you know, specifically, it's, you know, what is that final destination that you want to get to, and how you get there is very, very different for every sort of funding call you put putting in for. Or what your long-term aims are and who you're passing the baton to going back to when we're talking about, you know, if impact for you is passing the baton along, you know, what are the needs of those people that need to pick up the baton?
WK: It's kind of like, how if someone uses the same generic bio all the time, at some point, it's just going to not fit and you're going to look at it and go, “Why did they give me this generic bio that is not related to this community conference at all.” And they're just talking about how they did an internship at, you know, and, some time at Harvard and so on? Well, it doesn't read well, and so why would you do that with impact? It's the same situation, as far as I'm concerned.
AP: Yeah. And I'd also say it's a bit like job applications, you know, you always see where they, they say, an unsuccessful application is where you've just submitted the same application or the same CV and you haven't tailored it to the requirements of the job role you're applying for, you know, it's the same thing here. You know, it's needs to be so tailored to, to what you're applying for.
LJ: Yeah, I completely agree with that tailoring, is really important. And I think going back to why boilerplate text, given everything that that's already been said, I think it also shows a fundamental lack of understanding about what impact really is. And that, you know, when you're working with your collaborators, and stakeholders, it's critical to plan the best ways to engage with them. And that will change and vary depending on the circumstances. Each, each situation will be unique. And so it's really important to think that through to plan from the start to also consider ways of, of monitoring and evaluating what's going what's happened, what's gone well, and feed that in and change. And so all these things amount to needing to be very tailored to use that term each time you write at that funding application.
WK: And I can tell you, as someone who's reviewed impact statements and grants, there, it's very obvious, it's very, very obvious when the impact statement is either boilerplate is recycled, it is not bespoke, it's been left the last second, it's very, very obvious.
IB: I'm interested in something else around kind of funding bids, and it kind of following on a little bit from, from the conversation we've been having. But I'm interested in thinking about the fact that obviously, impact is about how our research could change the world or could make a difference in the world. And I've had some great examples in the in the discussion so far. But I'm just interested in whether you think there is a temptation for researchers to either over promise, their impact, going back to the idea of a job application, and a research application being kind of similar and kind of over promise, the potential their research can have to make that difference in the world. Or go the other way and kind of under promise on what, what their impact is, in the fear of kind of failure of delivery or in the hope that they then don't have to carry out some of those wider engagement activities. I just wonder where you where you think that sits currently? And is there a temptation to do either or, or researchers kind of getting it, pitching it right, at the minute?
LJ: I think either of those can potentially happen. But what we tend to find is more of an issue is researchers perhaps planning well what they'd like to do, but they're not costing those activities into their research funding bid. So, when they come to actually want to deliver those activities with their stakeholders, they don't necessarily have the resources to do that. But they are under pressure to do it, because it's been part of their approved funding bid and, and that can cause real problems. So, I think the move on behalf of the UK Research Councils to indicate that there's an expectation, at least 10 to 15% of spend within a research grant should be spent on impact has been very helpful in encouraging researchers to think carefully about actually costing in the work that they're going to do so that they can deliver it.
AP: Yeah, and I'd also say I've seen examples of, of under-promising because they just haven't considered it and thought about it and really, you know, thought what that impact could be over-promising it as in it's, you know, it's not achievable in the time-frame. It's, you know, it's really gone for the big picture but, but not talked about what's achievable, you know, within the grant lifecycle because you can talk about the, the end aim, but as long as you're very clear about, you know, what you're going to achieve from this. The other thing I've seen, is completely misaligned where they they're talking about the impact, I suppose this is overreaching, the impact they're going to achieve. But the route they're going to get there just doesn't match up, there's completely no alignment. So, there was one that I was supporting, where they were talking about, it was to do with computer sciences, and they were going to develop a piece of code that would be used by these companies. And these companies would take it on and integrate it into their business and make loads of money. Their pathway where they talked about how they were going to achieve that impact. And what they were going to do was they were going to do a hackathon on us and the school event, and engage schoolchildren and teach them about coding, you know, reading that bid, you can say, there is no way you're gonna you're going to achieve businesses wanting to sort of use this code or even know you've made this, you know, amazing piece of code, that they want to use, through a hackathon and a school outreach project. So, when we changed the conversation and started talking about, “Who are these companies that would want to use it? How do you know they need to use it? How, you know, have you spoken to them that this is a need, we then, you know, thought about? Who are the gatekeeper organizations that could work?”, you know, could help them answer that and find those companies, because it turned out, they didn't even specifically know, the organizations that do need it, or how they'd reach them. So we took it back to the who the gatekeeping organizations, you know, and then rewrote the bid to be about, you know, the research was going on, but how they were going to engage the gatekeeping organizations and these ultimate, you know, stakeholders that they want to be using it eventually, in the research, in order to eventually, hopefully, then they’ve done something these companies want to take on and using their product.
WK: One of my frustrations that I always badger on about is when people say we will have an impact on policy by working with policymakers. And I always go, “Well, who are they?” “And what are the policies?” It's this, it's just nonsense. And reviewer reads that and goes “Well, they don't know what they're talking about. They don't know what policies exist, and they don't know who the policymakers are.” So I would send a researcher back and say, “Well, you need to do some investigation, you need to take a page in Alicia’s book here and find out who are the gatekeepers?” “Who are the, who are the organizations who, who possess this knowledge, and then how can we mobilize into that space?” So, for example, I work with quite a few physiotherapy researchers and my previous job, the lovely folks, one of my consultations with one of them, I asked, you know, “How are you going to get this intervention that you've got evidence?” Or “You think you will have evidence is going to be successful? How will you get this this into practice? How will you get this intervention into practice?” And the individual goes, “We’ll, we'll work with policymaker”. “No, that's not going to do we're going to get it into clinical guidelines.” “Okay, well, that, what does that look like? How will you do that?” “I don't know.” Well, if you don't know, you can't promise it. So if you can, at least in the grant, say that I understand how professional associations work, I understand how clinical guidelines are adopted, and you know, how stuff gets in them, and the approval processes, etc. And if you can tell the person reviewing the grant that you understand that whole process, that you even better know how to engage with that process and know people who are involved in that process, it's a lot more likely that what you're actually promising is realistic, and achievable.
IB: I'm smiling all these examples because they all ring very true from, from my own experience, as well. I have one final question for each of you to answer and I want to play a little game. Imagine that in front of us now is a fresh, new early career researcher just about to embark on their research career. And I just wanted each of you to give your top tip for, for that researcher to think about impact or something to avoid during their research career right from the start. So if we can kind of think of what that top tip would be?
WK: Engage early and engage often. I work with PhD students all the time. I gave a talk about this last week, during the PhD, it is not a very reasonable expectation that you'll be generating impact. Learning how to do research is often what the PhD is about. But you've got this golden opportunity, this perfect time, to hone your engagement skills. And so being able to do public talks, do Three Minute Thesis, do visualize your thesis, learn how to engage with various different stakeholders, join professional associations and academic associations. But this is an opportunity to hone those skills that are going to be required to really generate impact on the road
AP: Wade that's absolutely great advice and, and I think with that with honing your networks is also about finding out how you get support and advice within your organization. So, there are so many people that can help you with impact, can help you with engaging, can help you to understand who are the right people to engage with at the right time. You, you're not on your own in this journey, so, you know, really learning about who in your institution can help you, who within your networks you can speak to outside of the institution. So, as you say, signing up to those professional bodies, those other organizations, but sort of really looking into it and learning about it. And your organization will also deliver, probably, a lot of training, about engagement, about stakeholder mapping, about what impact is about how you plan for it, about what the difference is between the journey, planning for impact and the destination. And another really important thing, certainly in the UK, is also learning about how you know you've arrived at your destination, how you evaluate the impact you've achieved. And that's another skill that you may have learnt through your PhD because that is, you know, evaluation is, is fundamental in the type of research you're doing. For others, it might be completely outside your discipline. So, you know, kind of learning about how, how you evaluate, how you know you're making a difference, how you know you've achieved, what you set out to do, is a skill that will take quite a long time to hone and build it in. So, so start finding out how you learn about that, you know, as soon as you're setting off on that journey,
LJ: So, I think that planning for impact all the way through your particular research project, and through your career is what I would advise. So, thinking carefully at the outset about why you want to go on your research journey, and what your impact problem statement might look like, what you want to achieve by going on that journey, where do you want to get to, so you might think of your impact goals, who you'll need to involve and take with you along the way. So, your beneficiaries, your stakeholders, your gatekeepers, or intermediaries, and what you'll do along the way, and how much it'll cost. So that's more of your Pathways to Impact. And lastly, as Alicia’s just mentioned, also, how do you know when you've arrived at your destination, so that whole planning for impact’s really important, but I would also say, be aware of the unpredictable, of the serendipitous, of things that just arise without planning that you can really capitalize on, a new relationship with a new stakeholder, a new pathway to impact, some change that's happened that you couldn't predict, be on the lookout for those because that also potential impact and can take you down a whole new path of, of exploration and change.
IB: So, I want to say a big thank you to Wade, Alicia and Lucy, for joining me on this podcast. It's been a fascinating insight into Wade, Wade's new book, The Impactful Academic, and also into research impact in general across the world, specifically in the UK, and Australia. And I want to give them a chance to say goodbye.
WK: Thanks so much for having me. Really appreciate it.
LJ: Thanks so much. It's been a real pleasure.
AP: Thanks. It's been excellent. And I've really enjoyed our conversation, Wade and Lucy and Ian
WK: I've enjoyed working with you guys. It was so much fun. I was asked to put together this book and who knew that I get to meet these wonderful people? So, if anybody ever asks you to put a book together, and they include Alicia and, and Lucy in the list of people with a contact, do it, they're great.
LJ: It's been absolutely super working with you.
AP: Yes, I mean, ever since our first conversation, it's been so much fun and the thinking about it and then and then the way we've put it together and made sure it's all fitted together with the rest of the books been, yeah, just so much fun. But we're always happy to talk about impact, aren't we Lucy? So, we've really enjoyed getting it down on paper.
LJ: We are it's our favourite subject. Talk about it, write about it. We love it.
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