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What is Impact?

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 This paper does not purport to study directly, nor define, impact. Given the importance of the concept of impact to the paper, however, it’s crucial that some explanation is given so that references to impact aren’t entirely ambiguous. This paper presents from a UK-centric perspective, practices may be different elsewhere.

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 In the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council’s funding guidance there are numerous mentions of impact, but only a brief definition “all the extremely diverse ways in which research-related knowledge and skills benefit individuals, organisations and nations” (EPSRC 2013). The UKRC page What do research councils mean by ‘impact’? contains hyperlinks to several pages, the titles of these pages currently include:

  • 3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0
  • Pathways to impact
  • Pathways to impact: RCUK expectations and policies
  • RCUK guidance for completing pathways to impact
  • Statement of expectations
  • The RCUK mission for economic and societal impact
  • The RCUK statement of expectation on economic and societal impact
  • Knowledge exchange principles
  • UKRC typology of research impacts

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 In addition there are links (within the typology document) to 7 further pages, each belonging to a particular research council, each with subtly different definitions of impact.

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 The following image is the UKRC’s visualisation of pathways to impact (UKRC 2013):

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 UKRC Diagram of Impact Meaning

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 1 What the numerous, and not always complimentary definitions offered up by the UKRC seems to suggest, is that defining impact as it relates to research is not a straightforward endeavour.

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 1 Exemplifying the complexity of representing impact Jonathan Wolff writing in The Guardian explains his experience of being “a moral consultant to the railway industry” in the wake of two rail disasters. He hypothesises that although his research directly influenced policy – therefore having impact – but the work was never published, and there is in fact no visible evidence of the impact whatsoever. (Wolff 2010)

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 2 The UKRC definitions are not a de-facto standard at all, but given their influence one can assume that they act as a fair barometer for current understanding of the term and what it means. Beyond the UKRC, impact is also a concern of the Research Excellence Framework (REF). For the 2014 REF submission, impact is now a criterion that institutions will be measured against (REF 2011). The REF submissions directly effect how much funding Universities receive. The relevance of impact factors starts nationally with high-level organisations like the REF or UKRC, but pervades throughout academia right down to grassroots level (Monastersky 2005).

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 The following image gives a further impression of the difficulty defining impact (LSE n.d.), in particular showing how multidimensional a concept it is, and how interconnected the structures of meaning are.

11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 2 Impact Diagram from LSE

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Source: http://communitiesofimpact.joesart.org/what-is-impact/