There is increasingly a push to demonstrate the impact of research. However, many researchers tell us they are confused by the language around impact - what do we mean by impact, and how do you demonstrate in your funding application that your project will ultimately be able to make the intended impact?
The good news is that there are a lot of resources, from across the NIHR, to support impact through the lifecycle of research projects, including an RDS Impact Guide to support impact planning in your research design, and our glossary to help you with the terminology.
The Impact Guide helps us to look across six main areas, thinking about how best to put the building blocks in place to plan for impact. The first thing to think through is how to establish the need for your project – what evidence can you show to demonstrate that there is a need for your research? For many researchers, there are clear impact goals, but for some projects, this is harder to define – what would be the impact of a systematic review, and how can we talk about it in a similar way to a feasibility study? Realistic goals as well as having a strong pathway to achieve them is another key element of your research design. One of the hardest things about trying to plan for impact is unpredictability – none of us can tell the future! However, a well-defined pathway connecting the research to its goals with realistic activities and engagement will help to convince a funding panel that your project has a good chance of achieving the changes it aims for. One thing to consider is developing a ‘Theory of Change’ as part of your project plan and to include a logic model in your application. There are a lot of resources to support you to do this and your RDS adviser can also help.
Engagement often makes people think of Patient and Public Involvement & Engagement (PPIE), and this is one important element. But there may be many other relevant stakeholders who could help shape your project. Stakeholder mapping is one useful tool recommended to identify groups and broaden planning engagement for your project. Useful questions to ask yourself are not only who will benefit or be affected by this work but also who would need to know about the results of my research to put them into action or who do I need on board to effect the change I want to see? Often projects naturally engage with those people who are already interested, and it can sometimes be a barrier to impact if other, less obvious, or less interested, stakeholders aren’t engaged at the start of the project.
This naturally leads on to consideration of knowledge mobilisation and the resources needed to effect this, in other words how to get your research to those who can use it. Thinking through at the planning stage who you will engage with, when and how, throughout the project, not just at the end, will help identify what resources you will need to ask for. Allowing the appropriate budget and time will help to make sure that your research is communicated to the right people who can put the results into practice. If you have a communication strategy which runs through the whole project, you can break down how to communicate with different audiences. Who will you communicate with, and what is the best way? Innovative strategies can use different media, art, animation, or include different languages.
The language of impact can be confusing, with terminology to get to grips with, but the good news is that you are probably doing it already. In addition to the resources available online, your local RDS specially trained advisers who can help support you to really highlight activities that will ultimately help to achieve the intended impact of your project. Impact is the real-world change brought about by your research. This is often central to why we do research – what do you want to change for the better?