Demonstrating research impact

Why is research impact so important?

Most if not all researchers are motivated by the thought or hope that their research  will make a real difference of some sort in the world, and this is fundamentally what is meant by saying your research has an impact.

If your research is supported by public funds you will be aware of government 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. Most  countries will look to  impact in these areas in order to continue to justify public funding of research.Demonstrating research impact

At a more personal level, understanding and demonstrating the impact of your research can provide a great deal of personal satisfaction, and can improve your prestige as a researcher by raising your profile locally, nationally, and internationally.

How is research impact defined?

Different research funders will have different approaches but for example, the UK Research Councils define two types of research impact -   Academic Impact and Economic and Societal Impact.

Academic impact

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 UK Research Councils offer advice on maximising impact and have published a number of brochures  which provide examples of different types of impact, including:

Considering the impact of your research

There are three main areas where you will need to consider impact:

  • Grant applications and their management
  • Knowledge Exchange activities
  • Public engagement activities.

Your grant application
Funders are likely to ask grant applicants to consider the potential impact of their research from the outset.  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, for example to provide case studies for reviews or assessment exercises such as the UK Research Excellence Framework (REF).

Your research organisation should have services to provide advice and support for these activities. You may find also the REF Decisions on assessing research impact useful.