Last week we heard from Dr Louise Ker who described the benefits of cultivating a positive research culture, explained what funders are looking for, and offered her 5 factors for success when building good research culture into major bids.
This week we welcome Dr Anne-Sofie Laegran who discusses the importance of impact; demonstrating how your proposed research not only will advance scientific knowledge, but also make a difference in the wider world.
Importance and purpose
Whilst funders are keen to protect funding for fundamental research, society, represented by government; increasingly expect research to contribute towards addressing major societal challenges. Major investments in research are therefore increasingly geared towards these; and even if not explicitly linked, funders want to see real world impact from major projects.
Here are 5 top tips for embedding impact into your major research bid:
1. SET A VISION AND PATHWAY FOR IMPACT
The third blog in this mini-series highlighted the importance of a powerful vision statement, and some tools for how to create this. The vision should point towards the difference your research may make in the world, and the proposal should provide a pathway towards achieving this. If you are responding to a directed call, the funder may already set expectations of the overall impact they want to see from the programme. Your challenge is to show how your approach is the most convincing to address the defined challenge, and what impact you can realistically achieve within the scope of the project. If you respond to an open call, you need to convince the panel that your challenge is of utmost importance to society, and that your approach will contribute significantly to addressing this. Note – impact takes time, and the funders know this. The vision and pathway therefore need to be realistic.
2. Involve stakeholders in the proposal development
Effective engagement with stakeholders in industry, policy, practice or the public, is crucial for developing and delivering impact. These may be partners working towards similar goals, decision makers or direct beneficiaries. By engaging early you can tweak any questions or approaches to ensure they put the nail on the head in addressing the challenges of the sector or field. By engaging throughout, you have a group of critical friends that can provide a sounding board for the research and provide a pathway towards implementation.
Consider whether businesses or other organisations can get actively involved in the research itself or provide test beds for innovations coming out of the research. Source ideas and feedback on how best to engage and communicate throughout the proposal; be that through events, visits, advisory groups etc. Partners and stakeholders may also be able to help evidence the impact of your research. Having early discussions about this will clarify what is expected and possible to achieve and document.
Speak to colleagues in your local research office, Edinburgh Research Office or Edinburgh Innovations for support with brokering relationships, including obtaining letters of support.
3. Integrate engagement and impact throughout the proposal
The pathways to impact need to be embedded in the proposal. The importance of the project; the challenge you are addressing and the potential benefit, must be clear to the reviewer from the first page. Set objectives for impact as well as the research. The proposal should show how partners and other stakeholders are involved throughout. It is important not to just provide a list of activities engaging with the relevant target groups, but to show what the potential outcomes of these activities will be and how these lead towards the long term impact goal. This can be expressed through the narrative or through a diagram or table.
4. Cost activities and time for engagement and impact
Research funders know that engagement for impact takes resources and time. Failing to cost this into your proposal will make delivery challenging, and even risk you not getting funded. Again, the guidance may give indications of what is expected. Depending on the scale of the funding, build in specialist support for communications, partnership and stakeholder engagement and innovation. This saves academic time, but also enhances the quality of engagement.
5. Identify measures of success
Major projects will often have a framework for monitoring and evaluation defined from the funder, in particular if they are part of a large challenge led programme. In most cases the funder still puts it to the applicant to identify appropriate measures of success and indicators of impact relevant to their project. Funders know that impact takes time to realise, and that, depending on the research, we may not see any actual change on the ground within the time of the project. For the proposal you need to identify measures of success of the engagement and development paths throughout the project; as well as indicate how you may evidence longer term impact. Therefore, as noted above, it is helpful to have early discussions with partners and other stakeholders involved on what is realistic to achieve and evidence.
This week Dr Anne-Sofie Laegran set out her 5 top tips for embedding impact into your major research bid. Come back next week when we turn our attention to two critical stages of the application process – the outline proposal and funder review.
Keep up to date
Avoid missing out on future instalments of this Blog series by subscribing to the Edinburgh Research Office Blog. Make sure to also bookmark the major research bids toolkit homepage for easy access to the materials highlighted thus far, and to stay up-to-date with the latest major research bids content.
About the author
Dr Anne Sofie Laegran is Head of Knowledge Exchange and Impact, Edinburgh Research Office. This is a hybrid role, providing leadership and coordination for public engagement and research impact across the University, with a closer focus on impact development in the arts, humanities and social science. She has experience of reviewing and developing major bids, including for the Global Challenges Research Fund and the Industrial Challenge Strategy Fund.