The most powerful way to ensure a project delivers impactful outcomes is to align the research question to a real-world need, informed by direct and close communication with stakeholders and end-users.
The table below contains some questions to start you thinking about how research can make a difference in the world, in order to plan towards these impacts. This is not an exhaustive list but provides prompts to think about the different ways a research project might create change.
Impact is often thought of as beneficial change, but research outcomes could have just as much impact if they prevent a damaging or harmful change from occurring.
|What changes?||For whom?||How?||Where?|
Identify your stakeholders and how to work with them in the initial stages of a project to maximise success. Time spent managing expectations and mitigating potential issues or problems early on means all future activity can then be planned towards targeting best outcomes for stakeholders, which will ultimately lead to stronger impact.
Fast Track Impact provides a range of guides and templates to assist you with planning for impact.
Pathways to impact
An impact pathway describes the causal linkages in the steps between research and impact and enables the collection of evidence of impact at each step. These steps include:
Inputs: what researchers need.
Activities: what researchers do.
Outputs: the ‘products’ of research.
Outcomes: people becoming aware of, and using, these ‘products’ in the short to medium term.
Impacts: Longer term changes in society that result from outputs and outcomes.
The ARC's Research Impact Pathway Table below details these aspects in more detail. Note that the column on the right could also be titled 'Impacts'.
Note: the distinction between the two columns titled 'Outcomes' and 'Benefits'. When attempting to collect or write about evidence of impact, a common scenario is for people to get as far as describing the 'outcomes' but not going on to articulate the 'benefits' (aka: impacts) which is where the focus should be.
|Research Impact Pathway|
Types of impact
Research can contribute to society in a variety of ways, and research may have impact across several areas. Some of the key areas of research impact are:
- Cultural impact: when research contributes to the understanding of ideas, values, and beliefs. Demonstrated by changes in the prevailing values, attitudes, beliefs, discourse, and patterns of behaviour.
- Economic impact: can be defined as monetary benefits arising from research outcomes, either in terms of money saved, costs avoided or increases in turnover, profit, funding and employment or business opportunities; or benefits to groups of people or the environment measured in monetary terms.
- Health and wellbeing impact: demonstrated by better outcomes for the health of individuals, social groups or public health. This can include saving lives and improving people’s quality of life, and more general benefits for the wellbeing of individuals or social groups. It includes both physical and social aspects such as health care, emotional, psychological, economic wellbeing and other measures of quality of life.
- Policy impact: when research helps influence policymakers' decisions in the development of new or existing policies. This includes policy makers in government, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), charities, and public sector organisations. Crucial to this definition is the need to assess the extent of your research’s contribution, recognising that it is likely to be one of many factors that have influenced policy. It also goes beyond simply influencing policy, to enabling those policies to deliver public benefits.
- Environmental impact: demonstrated by positive impacts in the management or conservation of the environment, including natural resources, environmental pollution, climate and meteorology; and issues around global competition for energy, food and water resources. The key beneficiaries are the natural and built environment with its ecosystem services, together with societies, individuals or groups of individuals who benefit as a result.
- Social impact: beneficiaries include individuals of groups or individuals; communities or organisations; whose quality of life, knowledge, behaviours, creative practices or other activities have been positively influenced. Public debate and the awareness, attitudes, education and understanding of the public have been enhanced by engaging them with research activities or informed by research. Research may have contributed to community development and regeneration.
- Human capacity impact: research that leads to new or enhanced capacity (in human resources, social capital and connectivity, productivity) through the development or improvement of training, curricula, and pedagogical tools as well as technologies and processes, that create benefits, to individuals, groups or organisations. Outcomes can include a highly educated and relevant workforce, increased productivity in the workforce, improved skills and performance.
Acknowledgement to Science Foundation Ireland and CQUniversity Library
Consultation with a School Librarian via WesternNow for further assistance