Academic Esteem, Teaching and Learning
- Change in academic thought leadership
- Change in organisational growth
- Change in university’s external research profile
- Change in work practices
DEFINITION OF IMPACT
Put simply, impact in this context is the effect of research outside academia. There are multiple definitions of impact. The Australian Research Council definition is:
“Research impact is the contribution that research makes to the economy, society, environment or culture, beyond the contribution to academic research”.
“NHMRC defines the impact of research as the verifiable outcomes that research makes to knowledge, health, the economy and/or society, and not the prospective or anticipated effects of the research.”
Research metrics, such as citation counts, journal impact factor and h-index, while relevant in an academic environment, do not represent this type of impact. Understanding the impact of our research requires a different approach to the research planning process.
Planning for impact supports the strategic goals of the University and ensures our research reaches those for whom it is intended.
Griffith University has always been focused in the effect it has on its immediate and the wider community. One of the core commitments of Griffith University’s - Creating a future for all – Strategic Plan 2020 - 2025 is “Engagement Partnering for impact domestically and globally”. This will be realised through partnering “strategically for impact at local, national and international levels, becoming even more visible as contributors to public debate, public policy and cultural life in Australia and beyond”. The University also aspires to “carry-out large-scale research with a focus on end-user impact”.
The University commits to undertake “socially relevant research to ensure that the future brings benefits for as many people as possible” and to provide “relevant research that aims to address the major problems of the day”.
There is now an increased emphasis on research impact in research grant applications. For example, NHMRC 2020 Investigator Grants Assessment Criteria allocate 20% to ‘Research impact’ as part of the ‘Track Record’, which is “the value of an individual’s past research achievements, relative to opportunity, not prospective achievements, using evidence”.
The Australian Research Council provide opportunities in the Research Opportunity and Performance Evidence section for an academic to describe “the identifiable benefits of their research outside of academia”. Applicants are also asked to describe the potential outcomes and benefits of their research. For a scheme such as ARC Linkage, focused on partnering with external organisations, ‘Benefit’ is the highest weighted assessment criteria.
Griffith University was well represented in the highly scored impact studies in the Engagement and Impact 2018 exercise across a range of research areas. Some of the impact case studies that scored a ‘high’ are available on the ARC site:
The Australian Research Council has published the impact case studies that scored highly in the Engagement and Impact 2018 exercise. These are searchable by Field of Research, Institution, SEO code and other filters.
This is variously called ‘Approach to Impact’ or ‘Pathway to Impact’ One way of looking at the question is the Australian Research Council’s ‘Research Impact Pathway’ which describes the process from Inputs to Activities, to Outputs, to Outcomes, to Benefits. All of these processes lead to the impact (the ‘Benefit’ in this graph).
The impact a research area will have varies and can range across various categories.
Research can have relevance to many individuals and organisations. Beneficiaries are individuals or groups who are affected by, influenced by, or experience an improvement as a result of the research. Stakeholders are groups or individuals who are affected by (or can effect) a decision action or issue related to the research.
It can help to identify who your beneficiaries and stakeholders might be right from the start. This will then assist in any planning for collaboration and consultation plus the potential audiences for communication throughout the research process.
The first question might be ‘what can be measured’? Evidence of impact can take many forms and will be highly dependent on an individual research project. It is highly advisable to collect information and evidence as the activities occur rather than realising later that there was an outcome related to an activity you have been involved in, and trying to retrospectively find the details to record.
Evidence of work with stakeholders could include annual reports from organisations (including governments and NGOs), minutes from community meetings, work cited in funding applications from community groups or company websites.
In addition, letters of support, surveys, feedback from events, and testimonials from community organisations can all be used to demonstrate impact.
Social media activity can be measured, including the number of hits on social media sites, comments on articles or webpages and interaction statistics.
Documentation such as being mentioned in Hansard, recordings from public facing events and positions on steering groups are also examples of evidence that can be gathered and used.
There is further information on the question of how to gather impact in Digital Research Reports (March 2016) “The Societal and Economic Impacts of Academic Research” and (2016) 'Collecting Research Impact Evidence – Best Practice Guidance for the Research Community.’
Another useful resource is on the Sheffield University’s Research Services Impact pages - “Evidencing Impact, The What, The When, The How.”
Research generally has more chance of having societal impact if effort is expended on ensuring this is an outcome. Putting in some effort at the outset of a research project will affect the ability of the work to have societal impact.
Useful resources include:
Your relevant Grants officer in the Office for Research can assist with the preparation of the impact section of your research grant application.
For suggested media stories or to arrange media training contact the Office of Marketing and Communications.
The impact discussion has been very active in the UK and there are several detailed and helpful webpages available about impact. The UK Economic and Social Research Council webpages include some guidance on developing your Pathway to Impact.
Sheffield University’s Research Services ‘Impact’ page includes tools and guidance for impact.