In the current climate it is important for researchers to demonstrate that their publicly-funded research has had a meaningful, positive effect on some aspect of society and thus gives value for money. Consequently the onus on researchers to demonstrate the ‘impact’ of their research beyond the academic world is becoming more pronounced. Research proposals and reports include impact sections and the HEFCE Research Excellence Framework identifies ‘the wider impact of research’ as a key feature.
Thus, achieving impact has become an essential rather than desirable outcome of research in order to stand the best chance of securing further funding.
In order to achieve impact it helps to understand how it is defined by funders. The ESRC’s Impact Toolkit defines impact as ‘the demonstrable contribution that excellent research makes to society and the economy’. Impact is distinct from dissemination – which is the broadcasting or making public of key message and findings without measuring feedback and gathering information on how the message has been received and acted upon.
Types of impact
There are a number of types of impact such as economic/societal, academic/scientific. The emphasis is on impact outside of academia but with the proviso that research must be excellent academically or cannot achieve impact.
A key element of impact is identifying and developing relationships from the beginning of a project with the people who will assist in achieving impact when it finishes e.g. policy makers, media, industry, public sector and other academics. If the research is carried out, and findings presented in dialogue with those in a position to practically implement them in the non-academic world, the chance of achieving measurable impact is much greater.
Impact is not always easy to assess and could well take place some time after a project has finished in an indirect but crucial way. On the otherhand impact could be swift and direct, for example the introduction of a a piece of software/hardware into a learning environment or a change in curriculum as a result of research. The ESRC have a number of ways of measuring impact which they are developing and making more sophisticated in the line with the rising profile of impact.
TEL and impact
The TEL programme is keenly aware of the need to demonstrate impact beyond academia. A number of projects have already begun to demonstrate how their TEL funded research could have a practical, positive impact on such areas as:
- relieving teacher’s time and paperwork constraints
- addressing difficult subjects in schools in different ways
- providing better opportunities for disadvantaged people to develop skills through interacting with technology
- showing how technology can be used in learning environments to save time and money whilst providing improved learner outcomes.
For further information on impact see: