Why is impact important for principal investigators?
As a principal investigator (PI), you will want your research to make a difference and undertaking research with impact can improve your prestige as a researcher by raising your profile locally, nationally, and internationally as you develop a research portfolio.
You are supported by public funds and you will be aware UK policy aims to maintain and improve the achievements of the HE sector both in undertaking ground-breaking research of the highest quality and building on this research to achieve demonstrable benefits to the wider economy and society, eg research should have impact.
What is impact?
There are various definitions of impact, however RCUK define both Academic Impact and Economic and Societal Impact, which you may find useful.
The demonstrable contribution that excellent research makes to academic advances, across and within disciplines, including significant advances in understanding, methods, theory and application.
Economic and societal impacts
The demonstrable contribution that excellent research makes to society and the economy. Economic and societal impacts embrace all the extremely diverse ways in which research-related knowledge and skills benefit individuals, organisations and nations.
The Research Councils have published a number of brochures about different impacts which highlight examples of different types of impact:
- Impacts: People and Skills (2010)
- Impacts: Achieving Investment in UK Research Through Partnership (2010)
- Impacts: Success in Shaping Public Policy and Services (2009)
- Impacts: Successful collaborations with Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (2008)
- Impacts: Successes from UK Research (2007).
What you need to do
There are three main areas where you will need to consider impact:
- when applying for Research Council grants as they ask applicants to consider the potential impact of their research from the outset and ask for information about activities which could maximise the potential economic and societal impact of research so you can "win" the funding.
- at the end of a project when the majority of funders require an end of grant report which will cover the impact of the research so you can show that you have used the funding effectively.
- for your university in relation to their strategy for research, publicity etc and to build the evidence base for submission to the REF to raise your profile and enhance your reputation, as well as the profile and reputation of your university, so you will be better placed to apply for funding next time.
Your research organisation will have services to provide advice and support for:
Sometimes these are provided by the same service; sometimes they are split but your research office will be able to help.
Research Council grant applications
You will need to include:
- Academic beneficiaries - this should cover potential academic impact and pathways towards realising that
- Impact summary - this should cover potential economic and societal impact and seek to answer two questions: Who might benefit from this research? How might they benefit from this research?
- Pathways to Impact - this should detail the activities which will help develop potential economic and societal impact, answering the question: What will be done to ensure that potential beneficiaries have the opportunity to benefit from this research?
You can request resources to fund the activities detailed in your Pathways to Impact, eg employment of knowledge transfer specialist staff, publication costs, engagement events, people exchange, specific training costs for you or your researchers etc.
The Research Councils UK Pathways to Impact website provides a single point of access to RCUK guidance and resources for completing the Research Councils Je-S application form and understanding the pathways towards economic and societal impacts.
End of project report
Most funders require you to provide a report on the outcomes and outputs of the project at the end of your grant. This can cover the beneficiaries of the research, the staff employed on the grant and how it helped their personal development, publications, and potential and actual exploitation.
Information for your university
Your university will wish to know of the outcomes and outputs of your research. They will be able to help with exploitation and publicity and will wish to record the outcomes for future use, eg case studies for the REF.
You may find the REF Common menu of impact indicators useful.