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Research Impact

Research Impact

The University vision for research is summed up in the phrase "making knowledge work". This emphasises the University's vision for cutting edge research which ultimately produces positive effects in the world outside academia. As a technology University this has been the aim of our research for 50 years and continues to be prominent in our University strategy.

The aim of "making knowledge work" aligns closely with the increasing emphasis on impact shown by funding bodies and the UK Government through the REF exercise. Impact is important to Universities for many reasons including:

  • Widening our areas of research through engagement with groups outside academia.
  • Showing the importance of research to the wider community by better communication.
  • Demonstrating to the public why Universities need the funding they get from Government and Charities and that our research is a good use of that money.
  • Raising the profile of our research and researchers by showing what our research is and the effect it is having.

Below there is information on impact and some resources to help Faculties, research groupings and individual researchers to encourage, develop and evidence the impact of their research.

 A good resource for all aspects of impact can be found at Fast Track Impact

What is Impact?

Impact is defined as the effect research has outside academia.

In order for research to have impact, the knowledge generated by that research must show "an effect on, change or benefit to the economy, society, culture, public policy or service, health, the environment or quality of life beyond academia" (REF2014 Guidance on submissions, p26).

Impact can be very varied and will be specific to each project. Different organisations have slightly different definitions of impact. Some examples of impact definitions can be found at the following links. 

Note that RCUK has two definitions of impact:

  • Academic impact
  • Impact outside academia

However in general and in particular for the REF exercise, impact means impact outside of academia.

Impact is not the same as esteem or the significance of research within academia or dissemination of research. Sometimes it is difficult to see the difference between the routes to research impact (knowledge exchange, engagement, or impact activities) and the impact itself.

It is helpful to think of impact as something that other people or institutions gain or do. It is not something you as a researcher can do, but you can encourage it through impact activities. For example, giving evidence to a Government committee, working with a business or mounting an exhibition is not impact. It would become impact if your evidence changed or helped to form policy, if a business made more money or created more jobs as a result of your work, or if public perception of your area of research of an exhibition.

Impact in Research Grants

Research Councils UK (RCUK) is a large source of research funding for the University and this partnership of the seven individual research councils is putting increasing emphasis on the impact of potential research.

All research applications to the RCUK must contain impact summaries and statements about pathways to impact - in other words what is your research going to achieve and how are you going to make sure it happens.

RCUK defines impact as "the demonstrable contribution that excellent research makes to society and the economy" and recognise that it can happen in many ways.

Impact summaries

  • Who will benefit your research?
  • How might they benefit?

The following tips may help:

  • Make sure the impacts are specific to your research.
  • If there is more than one beneficiary put them in order of priority not randomly as you think of them.
  • Write clearly and avoid jargon. Try and read it through the eyes of a reviewer from a related field and see if it says clearly what the benefits of your work will be.
  • Do not include academic impact - this has a separate place in the application process and is not relevant here.

Pathways to impact

The important question is:

What will you do to make sure that the potential beneficiaries can engage with your research?

  • Remember to link back to the specific beneficiaries you name in the Impact Summary.
  • Write something about the routes to impact you intend to use. If appropriate show that you consider these to be a two way process of knowledge exchange.
  • Make sure the routes you plan to use are appropriate for your target beneficiaries or audience.
  • Give a timescale for impact activities - when are you going to do them and who will be responsible for them.
  • Include costings for these routes to impact and show how you will evaluate them and gather evidence for impact.
  • Write concisely and clearly; only include relevant information - don't just try to fill all the space if you don't need it.

For more information and help on Impact Summaries and Pathways to Impact see RCUK Impact guidance and NCCPE Pathways to Impact pages. For some case studies on innovative Pathways to Impact see the EPSRC website and links from that page.

A good resource for this is this article on 'How to write a winning impact summary and pathway to impact'.

Routes to Impact

For your research to have impact outside academia the results need to be available, shared, communicated or disseminated outside academia. How you do this will depend on what your research is and who you are trying to reach. There may be many routes to impact from publishing your results in a practitioner journal to developing a new product with an industrial partner.

NB the route to impact does not necessarily produce impact - e.g. if you mount an exhibition but no-one goes to see it, no impact has occurred.

Planning your Impact

You can never plan impact itself but you can plan potential routed which might result in impact. Below are some of the possible routes to impact which you might consider.

Business development

Business development or innovation is the commercialization of your research and can lead to commercial, social, health and other impact. At Bradford we have a business support team who can offer help and advice on commercialising research.

Partnerships and collaborations

Partnerships and collaborations may be commercial but there can be huge benefits in non-commercial collaborations and partnerships which can lead to a wide range of benefits. They can benefit your research group and University as well as you as an individual researcher.

You could for example undertake research that addresses specific issues which affect a partner group or organisation; get help in designing and conduction public engagement activities; get access to platforms which might not be available otherwise or you may not have considered; or even get new insights into your research methods and outputs.

You can develop partnerships with many types of organisations, groups or individuals. When considering partnerships you need to consider who might share your goals, who do you want to reach and what kind of impact would you like to produce? Potential partners might include arts venues. performance artists and groups; charities and community groups; festival organizers; local councils; museums and galleries; outreach groups; policy makers; think tanks; schools; science and technology centres; professional bodies; volunteer groups etc. This list is not exclusive and there are many possible partners who can help you translate the results of your research into impact.

The kinds of activities which can be undertaken with partners are as varied as the potential partners and you will need to consider the types of activity which will reach the people who could benefit from your research. Ideas might include co-production of research - involving the stakeholders/subjects of your research in the research from the beginning and working with them to solve a problem, address an issue or bring about change. Other ideas might include secondments or internships, joint events, exhibitions or production of radio/TV programs.

Continuing Professional Development activity

CPD involves the development of skills, knowledge and experience for people in the workplace. It can involve short courses, skills training and similar activity which can be research led, for example the teaching of a new technique developed during a research program to practitioners.

To demonstrate impact from CPD, follow up is necessary. For example a questionnaire for participants about how useful they found a course, whether it changed how they work or affected the outcomes of their work. Other types of feedback might also be appropriate.

For some ideas, access our impact case studies from REF2014, under the three University research themes.

All Impact Case Studies submitted to REF2014.


Evidencing and Recording Impact

Impact may be planed by you as a researcher, or you may stumble across an unexpected impact which your research has had. In either case it is important that you collect some evidence of the impact and that you record it somewhere.

Evidencing your impact

In terms of the REF Impact Case Studies, it is vital to provide evidence of the impact you are claiming. An unrecorded conversation with someone who says to you that that your research results have changed the way they do things  in their jobs or changed their health does not count as impact because it cannot easily be substantiated.

Evidence for impact can be very diverse and can include personal testimony, provided you are sure the person will be able to substantiate what you claim they said and that you still have their contact details. However, hard evidence is much better. Types of evidence might include a letter on headed notepaper from a practitioner explaining how your research has changed their practice and the difference the change has made; figures from a company who are selling x thousand more widgets and have created y more jobs as a result; use of your book/paper in official government or professional guidance; numbers of patients have been successfully treated with the drug you developed; a change in local government policy which is clearly based on your research finding; a social change; or number of students attending a CPD course or doing it online and the impact this has had on them (does mean following up with the participants). Metrics are important in this aspect of evidence, although good evidence can be available which does not involve numbers. It is worth checking when, for example entering in to a commercial partnership, that the commercial partner is willing to provide metrics or other evidence to support any impact your research produces.

Note that, for the REF, the metrics of impact do not have to be large for it to be considered good impact. If your impact is local, but produces a profound change, as in the community resilience case study, it is still considered good impact.

Recording Impact

Once you have discovered some impact which your research has has, and got some evidence for it, the most important thing is to make a record of this.

You need to record the impact and then link it to the research project and/or grant which produced it. This will allow you to link you research with its impact to create a clear narrative from your lab/desk to what your effort has achieved in the wider world. Impact may build slowly over a long time, so the process of recording impact is very important to keep track of what may be happening as a result of work done 10 years ago.

You might do this by using Evernote.