Fast tracking your impact

Shonagh McEwan shares her reflections on the recent Fast Track Impact training with Professor Mark Reed, an inspiring training session based on the principle that ‘impact is the good that researchers can do in the world’.

With over 20 researchers in the room from a range of disciplines, Mark began with the question: why do you do research? This question is crucial. Answers ranged from curiosity and making a difference to interest and passion. Mark reminded the room that this is our starting point, and suggested that researchers should engage with impact through their passions.

It is a timely reminder about the diversity of impact and the fact that impact is not only about the Research Excellence Framework (REF). Mark advised, “if impact is for you, then engage with impact for your own reasons”.

“Impact is bigger than REF, and REF is only one component of impact”, argued Mark. Funders and REF have their own definitions of ‘impact’, but Mark’s discussion of ‘what is impact’ kept it simple and engaged with researchers’ intrinsic motivations – “if you use the word ‘benefit’ then this de-mystifies what impact is”.  Who has benefited from your research and how?

Other people’s shoes

Taking a relational approach to impact enables people to generate deep and lasting change through their research. This is about putting yourselves in the shoes of people who might benefit from your work.  Starting from that empathic position, researchers can build pathways to impact that are both strategic and time-efficient.

Participants were invited to consider their research from this angle. For some, this sparked a very different way of thinking about how to plan and develop their pathways to impact.  For another, there was a real lightbulb moment when they realised how they could work alongside a significant stakeholder from a new angle that would bring mutual benefits – including time-efficiencies for them as an academic and potential for greater economic benefit for the stakeholder.

Tools to help you

Mark shares a wealth of tools and resources online, including planning templates, stakeholder analysis templates, and ways to take the pain out of evidencing and systematically tracking your impact. There are also examples of best practice and guides to writing your pathway to impact and impact summary.

Give the templates and other tools a go – but be aware, it needs some dedicated thinking time!  Taking a strategic and ethical approach to impact requires consideration. There may be positive and negative impacts of your work.  You may need to be upfront about that, and think about how you define two different pathways to impact depending on what your findings might be. There may be relationships that need careful consideration and time investment, or some that you realise, after some stakeholder analysis, may be of less interest and lower benefit than you initially thought. But, in the end, Mark’s advice and tools may save you time AND mean your research if of greater benefit to the world.

Dr. Shonagh McEwan is KE adviser in the CAHSS Knowledge Exchange Team.

If you need any further advice and support, please contact the Knowledge Exchange Team at ke.office@ed.ac.uk. You are welcome to contact us at any point, whether you are at ideas stage, in the middle of drafting a funding application or need further advice during your research.

CAHSS Knowledge Exchange information and resources can also be accessed here.

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