A Guide to “Impact” in Research

In this article, Georgina Collins gives a brief overview of the buzzword in academia, impact, and what it means for academic researchers. She talks about how one can involve impact activities as part of ongoing professional development. 

“Impact” describes the contribution that research can make to society and the economy when research knowledge is communicated to the wider public. According to Research Councils UK (RCUK), “impact”:

  • Must be demonstrable
  • Must involve engagement with non-academic audiences
  • Must result in change (ie make a difference to the way audiences think or behave)
  • Must show economic impact beyond just financial or monetary impact
  • Can have benefits outside the UK

What are Impact Activities?

Impact activities are forums for the communication of research knowledge to individuals and groups beyond academia. These may include:

  • Blogs or web articles
  • Classroom materials for schools
  • Exhibitions
  • Magazine or newspaper articles
  • Non-academic books
  • Pamphlets or guides
  • Public lectures or debates
  • Radio or television interviews and programmes
  • School visits

Which non-academic audiences can be targeted?

Consider the way in which you could work alongside any of the following categories of people, or the way in which your research could benefit these groups:

  • Charities
  • Corporations and businesses
  • Government or policy makers
  • Individuals with interest in a particular subject
  • Leisure groups
  • Non-governmental organisations (NGOs)
  • Not-for-profit organisations
  • Professional or practitioner groups such as lawyers or architects
  • The voluntary sector

Impact tips for ECRs

  • Create a new section in your CV for Impact Activities – include any public engagement events you have been involved in that have lead to Impact.
  • Consider Impact when applying for funding – organisations such as the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the British Academy (BA) ask applicants to address both academic and public impact. Other application forms may not explicitly ask for details of Impact but it is worth including some of your plans.
  • Look out for funding to organise Impact activities.
  • Warwick also has prizes for work undertaken by researchers that engages with the public and that is not otherwise rewarded within the university, such as the Arts Impact Award (linkto: http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/arts/rss/impact/arts_impact_award/).


Other benefits to ECRs

  • Non academic lectures and debates can provide you with new perspectives on your work.
  • Activities such as school visits or working with charities can be inspirational and good fun. They also underline how important your knowledge can be outside of a university.
  • You may find that newspapers and magazines, for example, will pay you for writing articles.
  • In general, impact activities are great for networking and contacts and may bring about new opportunities or new directions in research.

Photo Credit: Jangda/CreativeCommons

2 thoughts on “A Guide to “Impact” in Research

  1. Hi Georgina,

    This is a great article and really outlines the diversity of activities which constitute towards research impact.

    A Doctoral Training Centre (DTC) is in a relatively unique position compared to most funded research projects, in that the majority of it’s impact will not come from publications/published research. However, PhD students will still be creating significant amounts of social/economic impact through activities such as outreach, internships, online blogs etc. This kind of impact is incredibly challenging for a DTC to record and measure in any meaningful way.

    You might like to read a whitepaper we produced, which discusses some of the challenges faced by a DTC in recording it’s impact: https://www.kolola.net/news/aug14/challenges_whitepaper.php

    I am the Business Development Director for KOLOLA, and we have produced a unique system which helps researchers and academics to record their impact activities, self-map their impact and create a collaborative ePortfolio demonstrating their achievements. The data collected can then support you with producing impact case studies, be used as a source of material for marketing purposes, as well as being used by individual PhD students and staff to evidence their own personal development.

    Feel free to drop me in e-mail if you would like to find out more about what we do 🙂

Comments are closed.

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: