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2019 – The focus for Impact

29th January 2020

In this blog, Julie reflects on her impact resolutions for 2018 – and considers what 2019 may bring.

What are you main thoughts on your #taketheleap pledges from 2018?

In 2018 I pledged to #taketheleap by committing to support professional development of the impact community. It has been a genuine concern of mine for some time that we focus so heavily on assessment and ‘counting impact’, that we lose sight of the efforts and skills needed to create impact. In May 2018 I was enormously privileged to take on the new role of Director of Impact Development at the University of Lincoln. This new, hybrid role combines research management with academic practice, and in so doing allows focus not only on what impact we have, but how we can plan it and embed it healthily within our institutions. In parallel, working with Dr David Phipps and Emerald, we’ve produced an Impact Literacy workbook to help people think through how to drive meaningful effects from their research, and an Institutional Health check to support institutions map their provision. These tools form part of an ongoing suite of activity to drive good practice in impact, and help buffer the sector from the game playing that often ensues when reputation and money are the ultimate prizes.

Has the international picture changed since 2018?

Last year I also reflected on the differences in impact discussions around the world. The UK, as it nears the final phase of the current REF cycle, remains the most strongly assessment focused territory, but internationally the picture is changing. Whilst Australia pursues an assessment approach which mirrors, but does not fully replicate REF, and with new impact groups emerging internationally (eg. new Impact special interest groups within both the Australian and Danish research management associations), there is a clear and growing interest in impact. This continues to play out in nation-specific ways, and at different paces, with the international sector still varying on the continuum between bibliometric and social impact assessment poles. 2018 also heralded the beginning of the INORMS Research Impact and Stakeholder Engagement (RISE) Working group, a cross-national group of research management leads exploring impact needs across the sector and considering how best to support those working in, or seeking to build, an impact agenda.

What are your impact aims for 2019?

Last year I talked about what I aimed to achieve in my role as ARMA Impact SIG champion. But in late 2018 I took the decision to step down from this role, the primary reason being because impact needs to grow. Impact needs continued energy, and fresh ideas, and within ARMA, the opportunity for impact professionals to step into specialist roles. ARMA now has three fabulous new impact champions, and with their expertise and refreshed approach, the impact community is in excellent hands.

My focus now is threefold. Firstly, to support my university colleagues engage with impact as productively, healthily and meaningfully as possible. I am immensely privileged to have a role that focuses on, but also firmly beyond, REF.  Secondly, to continue driving ‘impact literacy’ more firmly into our impact approaches sector wide; if we don’t make good choices, how can research be fairly and realistically connected to the non-academic world? And thirdly to continue to explore – through academic research – how research implementation, research impact, and impact professional practice can be enhanced. 

What should the academic sector focus on in 2019?

The general principles I outlined last year are here, and they still stand; it’s essential that researchers take a reflective and critical approach to impact, to avoid simply delivering for REF or assuming what stakeholders need. The impact agenda is extending internationally, service providers are growing in number, and expectations risk growing unnervingly and unrealistically high. We need to re-ground ourselves in the basic principles of impact; that it’s about meaningful change. Whatever, however and wherever changes happen, we should never lose sight that impact is in the eye of the beholder. Get your connections right outside the academic walls, and you’re far more likely to connect research in a way that truly matters.

Dr Julie Bayley

Director of Research Impact Development & Director of Qualifications
University of Lincoln & Association of Research Managers and Administrators (ARMA)

Julie Bayley