Real Impact Awards

Award winners share their inspiring stories of impact commitment


Research impact is about making a difference in the real world. It occurs when academic knowledge and expertise benefits or influences society, culture, our environment and the economy.

It can take many years before research translates into impact. We believe it’s important to support the journey to impact and that’s why we are celebrating impact commitment through our Real Impact Awards.

About the Awards

Our Real Impact Awards celebrate the researchers and faculty members that have made a commitment to research impact and are striving to make a concrete difference to society, culture, our environment and the economy. The showcase book tells their stories of commitment and the practical steps they are taking to make a difference in the real world.

The Real Impact Awards celebrate the individuals and teams that have made a significant commitment to research impact in 2020.

Find out more

Researchers are continuing to focus on projects that make a difference in the real world by tackling priority issues such as those outlined in the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The COVID-19 pandemic offers a reminder that we must continue to invest in research projects that tackle the ever-growing and complex global challenges of the 21st century.

Local grassroots movements to globally applicable research can demonstrate a commitment to impact when their aim is to make a difference in the real world. At Emerald, we champion this work, and through our Real Impact Awards recognise the people working to make a tangible difference.

We bolstered our commitment to research impact in 2018 by signing our Real Impact Manifesto and launching the Real Impact Awards. A year later, we published our Change Ready report, looking at global attitudes to research impact. Then in 2020, we began our Real Impact of Change campaign, where we drew attention to the pioneers driving change in their institutions and across the world. That same year, we launched a £20,000 publishing fund to cover the Article Processing Charges for coronavirus research published on Emerald Open Research.

In this showcase book, we celebrate the winners and finalists of our Real Impact Awards 2020 by sharing their stories of commitment and change. These individuals, teams, and institutions from all walks of life recognise the benefit of interdisciplinary research and the need for innovative approaches to achieve impact. By sharing their stories, we shed light on their innovations and initiatives, as well as their unique journeys to impact that work towards making a difference to their communities, cities, and wider society.

The 2020 awards are divided into four categories: Driving the impact agenda, Mobilising research into action for COVID-19, Library commitment to uncovering real impact, and the Interdisciplinary Research Fund.

The Interdisciplinary Research Fund is slightly different from the others as it rewards an innovative research project that promotes action on the UN Sustainable Development Goals/global challenges through collaboration of disciplines, methodology and research. Here, we are interested in what ways the interdisciplinary team has shaped the project and how it intends to deliver real impact.

Entries were judged by an externally recognised body of research professionals, who assessed the submissions based on the type of impact that the nominee committed to achieving.

We are excited to share the outstanding contributions that our winners and finalists have made to the research community and beyond, and applaud them for their work.

Congratulations to all!

Driving the impact agenda

Recognising efforts to establish or embed impact within a research environment, to innovate existing practice, or to drive impact culture.


Professor Divine Kwaku Ahadzie, Centre for Settlements Studies, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Ghana.

Engaging local communities

Ghana is at risk of a housing and environmental crisis. The population growth rate is currently 2.2% per year and over 60% of urban households live in one-room accommodation in an average household size of five. Flooding issues are also a concern due to increasing human activities, poor waste management practices and a lack of community action for flood risk management.

Professor Divine Kwaku Ahadzie of Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Ghana, is well placed to address these issues. He brings over 20 years of experience in teaching and research in project management, urban construction practice and skills development, as well as communitybased flood risk management. His ongoing work is driven by the urge to see Ghana take proactive steps towards addressing the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly SDG 3 (good health and wellbeing), SDG 6 (clean water and sanitation) and SDG 11 (inclusivity, sustainable and resilient cities). His ongoing work in this area has earned him the Real Impact Award for Driving the impact agenda.

By drawing upon participatory and knowledge co-producing research techniques, Professor Ahadzie’s work has fostered active and ongoing engagement in local communities affected by inadequate housing and wastewater management and the persistent threat of flooding. In addition to publishing his findings in academic journals, he communicates his work to wider communities by adapting it into media friendly articles. This in turn has led to greater public awareness on the concept of housing and its implications for environmental sustainability in Ghana.

The far-reaching implications of Professor Ahadzie’s work have resulted in both the media and local communities asking the right questions and demanding more from those in positions of leadership. In addition, political parties are now being urged to make clear statements on policy directions for sustainable housing solutions for the country, and for the first time, provision of adequate housing became a national discourse in the run-up to Ghana’s general election in December 2020.

Pathways to impact

Professor Ahadzie’s pathways to impact include engaging both the local communities and media outlets. He notes how important these approaches are in developing a positive public opinion on scholarly research. 

It is important to strive for impactful research as this engenders confidence, credibility, salience and legitimacy in how society will receive and appreciate the significance of research findings, own it and put it to use. Also, it promotes mutually beneficial tripartite relationships between communities, higher education institutions, and the service sector

Professor Ahadzie believes that a commitment to impactful research is self-fulfilling and self-motivating. He encourages early career researchers to take the same direction and, 'start the journey of achieving real impact at the beginning of their careers and not wait till they get to their peak before embarking on this journey'.

Reflecting on winning a Real Impact Award, Professor Ahadzie commented that it, “has vindicated my thinking and added impetus to my long-standing conviction of seeing research findings going beyond publications in academic journals. Indeed, winning the Real Impact Award is akin to what I will describe as reaching the level of self-actualisation.

Judges were impressed with the engagement in local communities and activities to reach wider audiences. They said: 'This is an interesting project that shows a good link between research and social need. It includes several effective public engagement activities via co-produced research'.

Divine Ahadzie, winner of the Driving the Impact Agenda award shares his story as to how his research demonstrates real impact.



Professor Lorna Moxham, Recovery Camp and University of Wollongong, Australia.

A positive change

Untreated mental health disorders can decrease an individual’s quality of life, and impact families, communities and health systems. Psychosocial support services can help people who experience mental illness to successfully participate in society and contribute to their communities.

Recovery Camp is a unique programme that provides psychosocial support in an outdoor recreational setting. It was developed by Professor Lorna Moxham, Dr Dana Perlman and Dr Christopher Patterson – a multidisciplinary research team at the University of Wollongong, Australia. The camp also serves as a non-conventional mental health clinical placement: health students are immersed in an experiential therapeutic recreation (TR) programme that uses a collaborative learning-in-practice model.

More than 900 health students from 11 universities in Australia have received over 74,000 hours of clinical placement at the camp and it has hosted international visitors from Taiwan, India and the USA. The educative model encourages intersubjective relationships where people communicate by seeing and attempting to understand each other. The fundamental premise of Recovery Camp is that connection to others is grounded in humanness, and it is through humanness that impact can be observed. Professor Lorna Moxham believes that the programme makes a difference by, “changing people’s lives for the better, enhancing their quality of life, and contributing to social connectedness”.

Rewarding & humbling

Professor Moxham’s commitment to impactful work has been a rewarding journey: “It’s ‘easy’ to be committed to a project, a programme or a research study where you visibly see a positive change, and a change that occurs pretty quickly,” she says. “We are not waiting years to see the impact our work has on people. We see it within a day or two. It is very rewarding and very humbling to be part of such an empowering process.”

Through her commitment, Professor Moxham has helped to create positive change for individuals.

By making a positive impact, having a positive influence and seeing change for the better – people "see" and "feel" the value in what you are doing. The impact becomes personal, and this makes people want to be a part of it

On being selected as a finalist for a Real Impact Award, Professor Moxham states it is “a significant achievement and contributes to the validation of the Recovery Camp programme”. For an intervention that sets out to make a real-world positive impact on people, having that recognised by being a finalist is really gratifying,” she adds. For those who are starting out on their own impact journey, Professor Moxham imparts the following advice: “Collecting ‘evidence’ in its many forms will help you prove the impact that your programme makes”. More information about Recovery Camp

Judges felt this entry deserved recognition for its work to improve people's quality of life and bring about positive change. They said: 'This is a strong application and a well-considered entry'.

Mobilising research into action

Recognising the efforts and commitment being made to meaningfully connect research and action to deliver societal change.


Professor Celia Kitzinger, Honorary Professor at Cardiff University, and Gill Loomes-Quinn, PhD student, University of Leeds.

Facilitating awareness

COVID-19 has far-reaching implications beyond the health crisis. Restrictions in movement and work from home protocols have transformed the way we live and work. As the world continues to turn, social, private, and civil enterprises have adapted in innovative ways to continue their endeavours. This includes proceedings in the Court of Protection, which makes life-changing decisions on behalf of vulnerable and disabled people who are deemed to lack the capacity to make decisions for themselves. In already turbulent times, the new remote working protocols for the Court of Protection risked complete loss of transparency as well as new kinds of accessibility issues for vulnerable people and their support networks.

Professor Celia Kitzinger and PhD student Gill Loomes-Quinn set out to tackle the transparency and accessibility issues through a citizen journalism initiative. They developed the Open Justice Court of Protection Project to support public observation of Court of Protection hearings during the pandemic. The initiative aims to increase legal literacy and to raise awareness of the Court’s approach to decision-making, especially among health and social care staff.

In the 10 months since its creation, the project website has attracted more than 85,000 views from nearly 42,000 unique visitors across 80 countries and has directly supported around 1,000 members of the public to access court hearings. In addition, over 100 blog posts have been published, providing valuable information for the families and stakeholders involved in the care and support of vulnerable people. As a result, the initiative has fundamentally changed the ‘culture’ of the Court of Protection, which now expects and facilitates public attendance.

Prioritising stakeholders

Speaking as co-directors of the project, Professor Kitzinger and Ms Loomes-Quinn underline the importance of cooperation and collaboration in making the Open Justice Court of Protection Project a success. 'Without members of the public willing to observe court hearings and to report on them, our project would not exist in anything like its current form,” says Professor Kitzinger. Ms Loomes-Quinn adds: “It is a thoroughly collaborative enterprise, and that’s crucial to its success. It is this positioning, and the ways in which we have harnessed it, that has enabled us to work with such a diverse range of stakeholders.'

The co-directors believe that stakeholder involvement is fundamental for real-world impact. “For research to have impact, it has to be rooted in and engage with the lived realities of a wide range of different professionals and members of the public,” says Ms Loomes-Quinn.

For those looking to commit to impactful research, Professor Kitzinger offers the following advice:

Impact is so much more than a form-filling exercise! Make it something you care about passionately – but be prepared to change the way you understand the problem and its solutions. Engage with as many other people as much as possible – especially those who might take positions that challenge your own

Ms Loomes-Quinn adds: 'Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good – you have to start somewhere!'

Judges praised this project for its collaborative approach to a challenging issue. They said: 'This project is great. What stands out is the need for change and the researchers making this change for all'.

Library commitment to impact

Recognising the efforts and commitment within the library setting to uncover real impact.


S Rajeswari, Head of the Scientific Information Resource Division, Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research, Tamil Nadu, India.

Making resources accessible

Research libraries play an indispensable role in collecting, curating, and disseminating vital information to researchers. Access to necessary information resources at the right time is an essential first step in the development of impactful research. Scientific Information Resource Division (SIRD) at Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research (IGCAR) is one of the state-of-the-art research libraries of the Department of Atomic Energy in India.

IGCAR is engaged in broad-based multidisciplinary programmes of scientific research and advanced engineering directed towards the development of Fast Breeder Reactor technology. S Rajeswari, Head of SIRD, IGCAR, implements and manages a range of ongoing projects that ensure researchers have access to the quality information that can aid their own journeys to impact.

To support researchers, the library offers a range of resources such as essential bibliographic databases, efficient resource sharing mechanisms and publication support services. In addition to this, the institute maintains an ISSN-based newsletter to publish the scholarly data generated by the preliminary research. SIRD also collates the institution’s latest developments in technology into an annual report and maintains an institutional pre-print server and centralised institutional repository to preserve the confidential design reports and scholarly data generated by the institute. The research library of IGCAR demonstrates a commitment to impact through proactive efforts towards being a source of effective knowledge dissemination. In the judge’s feedback, the annual report and pre-print server were particularly praised: “These activities demonstrate a commitment and effort to promoting the impact of their parent institution’s research activities”.

Research library impact

Supporting researchers who require the use of libraries associated with R&D institutes, incubation centres, etc., provides an excellent opportunity for library professionals to make a commitment to impactful research. “In India, the government has started a new scheme called incubation centres. It is to encourage innovation with the support of premier institutes academics, for societal development by developing a technology and transferring it to industry,” says Ms Rajeswari.

When reflecting on what makes commitment to impactful work special from other kinds of research, Ms Rajeswari observes that the hopes and expectations surrounding the outcomes can differ. “Committing to impactful work demands working towards a specific application with devotion and cooperation from other experts,” she says. “Such research is unique […] the result can be significant to the nation and valuable to humanity.”

Ms Rajeswari highlights the importance of having an impact-focused goal:

Research with a target that has a positive influence in your country and region is impactful research, as well as projects that bring a tangible benefit to society in the hour of need

Furthermore, she believes that impactful research is more likely to garner public interest, funding, and personal rewards: “In turn, such projects receive public support and personal satisfaction. Impactful work receives more financial support from funding agencies due to a quick return on investment,” adds Ms Rajeswari.

Ms Rajeswari dedicates her Real Impact Award to her team and her management.

Judges applauded this project for the range and quality of resources it provides researchers. They said: 'These activities demonstrate a commitment and effort to promoting the impact of their parent institution’s research activities'.

S Rajeswari, winner of the Library Commitment to Impact award shares her story as to how her research demonstrates real impact.



Professor Hui-Wen Vivian Tang, Ming Chuan University, Taiwan.

Informing educational reform

Over the past two decades there has been a proliferation of publications in the field of international large-scale student assessments (ILSAs). In response to the increasing publicity and interest of international comparative research on school outcomes, Professor Hui-Wen Vivian Tang from Ming Chuan University, Taiwan, is conducting a project to better understand the research paths and tendencies of international student assessment projects.

Bibliometrics, a research technique with its tradition rooted in library and information sciences, is widely applied to approximate the growth of literature and scientific progress as well as to track the state of knowledge development and paradigm shifts. A common research technique involves quantitative evaluations of empirical data in the form of publication productivity and citation analysis within a given topic, field institute, or country.

With a background in multiple-criteria decision making modelling (MCDM) and hybrid MCDM, Professor Tang plans to creatively apply large-scale bibliometric datasets from the TIMSS, PIRLS and PISA databases in the Web of Science (WoS) index against several design parameters. This approach will quantify the bibliometric characteristics of published papers and map key terms and conceptual linkages. The results are expected to provide valuable insights that can be used to inform educational reform in Taiwan.

Transdisciplinary collaboration & sustainability

Professor Tang creatively defines impact by the initials of the term itself to indicate academic ‘Integrity’, ‘Mindset’, ‘Practicability’, ‘Accountability’, ‘Collaboration’ and ‘Transdisciplinary’. Taking the word ‘collaboration’ as an example, she explains the important role that transdisciplinary collaboration can have on research impact: “Collaboration in positive and interdisciplinary manners is a value-added approach to finding breakthroughs and research initiatives that would contribute to readers in different fields of expertise”.

Professor Tang thanks transdisciplinary research and the use of a range of methodologies as having led to her success.

Seeking out transdisciplinary research and a wide variety of methodologies that challenge traditional statistical generalisability has been the inner drive for my personal excellence and success

She also draws attention to the importance of sustainability in making a project impactful: “I consider a research study’s far-reaching influence and sustainable existence […] Sustainability is the key factor for researchers to strive for impactful research

Reflecting on being a Real Impact Award finalist, Professor Tang says: “It’s the greatest honour for me to be selected and recognised by Emerald. I am grateful for every research idea that I have got from academic databases, my colleagues, and my teaching experience. I will definitely use the award to encourage my co-researchers and young scholars in Taiwan. The torch should be passed on to the next-generation of scholars.”

To researchers interested in starting their own impact journeys, Professor Tang offers this advice: “Enjoy your research and whole-hearted devotion to endless pursuits, breakthroughs, perfection and happiness in the journey of seeking impactful works”.

Judges were struck by the project’s robust design and methodology. They said: 'Bibilometric analysis (with appropriate ‘health warnings’) is one of the most effective ways of assessing impact of a particular field and this study will be of both local and general interest with a very well-thought out methodology'.

Interdisciplinary research

Rewards an innovative research project that promotes action on the UN SDGs/global challenges through collaboration of disciplines, methodology and research.


The Deakin Centre for Refugee Employment, Advocacy, Training and Education (CREATE) team: Alexander Newman, Karen Dunwoodie, Luke Macaulay, Ali Khan and Tay Ahmadi.

Research to rebuild

The Deakin Centre for Refugee Employment, Advocacy, Training and Education (CREATE) was established in 2019 to help people from refugee backgrounds rebuild their careers through access to education and meaningful employment. The team behind CREATE developed a variety of practical employability solutions based on academic research. Their commitment in this area has won them the Real Impact Award in Interdisciplinary Research.

CREATE’s interdisciplinary work aims to have a positive impact on the lives of people from a refugee background. By collaborating with local government, vocational and higher education institutions as well as social enterprises and refugee support agencies, the team enables more opportunities for training, development and employability. Through their partnerships, the researchers have also created solutions that foster the social and economic integration of refugees into the community.

When the team received philanthropic funding in 2019 to run career clinics for 450 refugees over a three-year period, an increased number of refugees found meaningful work. Many others also gained access to higher education scholarships. Other solutions created under the initiative include online courses, along with information guides and interactive workbooks. In addition, CREATE’s Guide for Employers is now used by more than 30 community sector organisations.

Research for the real world

The CREATE team’s commitment to developing employability solutions that are practical and research-based demonstrates their commitment to impact. Reflecting on why it is important to strive for impactful research, Professor Alexander Newman explains on behalf of the team...

Academics have a responsibility to engage in research that has an impact on the communities we serve as part of the social license that universities have to operate

At the heart of their endeavours, the CREATE team recognises the importance of working on research that is applicable to the real world. 'Ultimately, it is important for academics to have a positive influence on society through undertaking applied research that makes a difference in addition to blue-sky research.'

The team’s commitment to impactful research has demonstrated lasting results for its participants. This provides a great sense of achievement for the researchers involved in the project. Professor Newman explains: 'The most rewarding part of our journey to impact so far has been hearing the stories of individuals from a refugee background that we have assisted to find meaningful employment. In most cases, such employment has supported them to integrate into Australian society and allowed them to support their families'.

By engaging in impactful work within communities, researchers can sometimes end up taking on the role of being the face of their institution. “People now know of us as a research centre that is doing something meaningful for marginalised groups in society and not just for our academic publications. That is something I am proud of,” notes Professor Newman.

The CREATE team are honoured to be recognised by the Real Impact Awards for their commitment to interdisciplinary research and encourages other researchers to do the same: 'Reach out to different stakeholders in the community to identify social, economic or environmental issues they face that may be addressed through your research expertise. Don’t just include your participants but listen to their stories, give them a voice and empower them'.

Our judges were unanimous in choosing CREATE as the winning submission. They were impressed by how clearly the submission explained the way that the interdisciplinary approach had shaped the project and methodology and on the uses of the research outputs in supporting the UN SDGs.

Judges praised how the team’s interdisciplinary approach had shaped the project and methodology. They said: 'The Deakin Centre addresses a particularly important global challenge in an innovative way with considerable long-term potential. The submission has clearly delineated project aims, plan for transformation and an impact agenda.'

Alexander Newman – speaking on behalf of the CREATE, winner of the Interdisciplinary Research award – tells us how their research demonstrates real impact.

Our roadmap for closing the impact gap

We remain resolutely committed to our goal of helping research to have an impact; real impact that influences thinking, changes policies and practice, and positively makes a difference to lives beyond the walls of academia.

Download the roadmap (PDF)

Our action

In 2018 we launched our impact manifesto committed to supporting meaningful, real world impact. This put a marker down to overcome barriers to impact, challenge outdated practices and drive impact literacy in a 130 years sector driven by citations and traditional markers of success. We have been on a journey ever since, doing what we can to highlight the issues, find solutions and join up with the research community to make positive change happen, together. But we still have a long way to go.

This roadmap sets out our journey so far, from launching our Real Impact Awards (recognising changemakers within the industry), to becoming the first publisher to sign DORA, (highlighting the issue of journal based metrics in research and researcher evaluation), and beyond.

We have built networks that can come together to create a united voice for change through our Impact Advisory Board and the launch of a community action platform Emerald Engage. We have tried to find ways to open up research through Emerald Open Research which tackles critical world issues linked to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, and we have campaigned for the Power of Diverse Voices in creating impactful research – in an industry notorious for elitism and disparity in gender, class, race and more.

Our global reports have highlighted the cultural issues in academic holding us back and our Real Impact podcast and blog series has created time and space for healthy debate on the issues that matter.

2021 awards to look forward to

As the pandemic continues to impact our way of life and the world we live in, it’s now more important than ever that we help to drive change and support the research community in helping to solve global and local issues.

This is why Emerald is supporting the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which builds on our commitment to promoting ‘real world’ impact from the research we publish and the services we offer.

Our awards programme made up of the Literati Awards, Real Impact Awards, Outstanding Doctoral Research Awards and the Interdisciplinary Research Awards will be more aligned to the SDGs and more focused on demonstrating the influence research has made on delivering positive change.

Look on our website for further details, how to apply, submission dates for 2021 and criteria for judging.

The Literati Awards

The Literati Awards have recognised the work of authors and reviewers for nearly 30 years and remains a key part of our activities. In 2021 we’d like to simplify the number of awards but continue to recognise work in from researchers around the world. We’ve also evolved the criteria to include ‘reach and influence within and outside academia’.

Outstanding Doctoral Research Award

The Outstanding Doctoral Research Awards (ODRA) recognise the work of early career researchers who work in applied fields and address real world issues. These awards will focus on four goals relating to the SDGs – Fairer society, Healthier lives, Responsible management, and Quality education for all and will award research that tackles the grand challenges. Two awards will launch in 2021 with the remaining two launching in 2022.

Real Impact Awards

These awards form part of our commitment to championing research and research practices or processes that can make an impact beyond academia. They reward efforts to embed impact within a research environment or to drive impact culture. They also recognise efforts being made to connect research and practice to deliver societal change.

Interdisciplinary Awards

The Interdisciplinary Awards (IDR) are part of our Real Impact Awards and celebrate the different approaches to achieving real impact. They recognise innovative research projects that promote action on the UN SDGs, through collaboration of disciplines, methodology and research.