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Making an impact with your research

Making an impact with your research

01 May 2019

Alison Booth, Research Adviser, RDS Y&H

Impact is key to the development and delivery of sound and achievable health and social care research, much like patient and public involvement and engagement is at the heart of a robust health or social care research project. Creating an impact is fundamental to research. Research should be undertaken for a reason whether it is to effect a change in practice, start something that works, or stop something that does not, or influence commissioning, or advance thinking in an area.

Making sure that impact is appropriately planned for at the very beginning of proposal development, and is regularly revisited and reviewed is key to achieving success and securing benefits beyond the formal end of any research process.

Start by drafting an impact summary to identify:

  • What is the problem?
  • How are you addressing it?
  • Who will benefit and how?

This will help keep you focussed on what it is you aim to achieve. Then decide how you are going to achieve the planned benefits - the pathway to impact. There is no magic formula for achieving impact. It is up to you to weave your thinking about, and management of, impact into your project to achieve the aims of your research.

At the application stage plans may have to be speculative to some extent; so every plan needs to be embedded in a study, monitored throughout and flexibility maintained to cope with the unexpected as it happens, rather than when it might be too late to address.

Exploring impact as part of your overarching plan can help you to:

  • demonstrate outcomes
  • get your work noticed
  • get recognition for your project outputs
  • focus on success
  • achieve the ultimate aim of your research, for example, inform guidelines which are implemented and improve outcomes for patients.

Impact which is properly planned, illustrated, and is creative and innovative will also show research funders that you have been rigorous in your approach. Achieving impact can also support your career and future funding applications. It also helps to regularly ask yourself ‘so what?’

Think about mechanisms for sharing, outputs, implementation, and the type of impact you want for your findings. NIHR acknowledge that demonstrating impact is not easy, but think about how you will measure your planned impact, and include information collection in your plan.

There is a lot of information around at the moment about impact.  It may seem like an awful lot of effort will be needed to think about impact on top of all of the work that goes into developing a funding application - never mind delivering the research!  But remember that funders and funding committees want and need to see it. They also expect you to cost in impact activities.  If it is clear and evident and understandable in a proposal, then that will go a long way to getting you to the top of the funding priority list.  Most importantly, it will be difficult to deliver a high quality research project without it!

You may have people in your own workplace or institution who can advise on impact, and who offer workshops or training based around research impact. 

Making an impact with your research is not easy, but the RDS can help you to start to think about impact and signpost you to other sources of information.

Top Tips:

  • Draw up an Impact Summary to identify: What is the problem? How are you addressing it? Who will benefit and how?
  • Write a Pathway to Impact: how you are going to achieve the planned benefits?
  • Think about the who, what, why, when and where?
  • Plan for the information/data you will need to evidence your impact activities?
  • Be realistic and proportionate in your plans and include costs for impact activities in your bid
  • Embed your impact plan and data collection into your study plan.
  • Carry out activities as planned and where plans go awry, document and explain changes but carry on!

Useful Links:

The Health Foundation toolkit:

The London School of Economics: Impact Blog

Fast Track Impact: Excert rom the Research Impact Handbook

NIHR approach to impact:

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