Research Impact: What is it and how can I achieve it?

Guest blog by Maeve Croghan, Account Manager at Kudos.

You will probably have the term research impact being referenced by your institutions, publishers, funders and colleagues. This is because in today’s research climate there is an increasing shift toward being able to both achieve and evidence the broader impact of your research.  Increasingly your ability to do this may determine your funding, tenure and promotion success.

However, navigating your way round the path to impact can be a daunting task and you may not know where and how to begin.

EUP already partner with Kudos to provide you with a way to measure, track and extend the impact of your research, and we have written this short guide to help you navigate the world of Research Impact.

What is research impact?

Different funding bodies and Universities all have slightly different ways of defining it. We find it most useful to begin with the UK’s own Research Excellence Framework who define it as research which has;

“An effect on, change or benefit to the economy, society, culture, public policy or services, health, the quality of life beyond academia”  

This idea of ‘life beyond academia’ is key – traditional assessment of impact focuses more on academic impact, whereas true impact is measured by indicators of change which happen in the real world, outside the walls of Universities and Research Institutions.

Clearly there are different types of impact which may occur ranging from high-level policy changes at an Institutional or National level to attitudinal or cultural impact which may help shape perceptions and narratives and pave the way for longer term change. 

Professor Mark Reed’s ‘Research Impact Handbook’, can help you understand in more detail the potential impact of your research in each area.

Why does research impact matter to society?

  • Research impact can help researchers and institutions keep focused on the overall purpose and outcomes of research rather than solely on the process itself. 
  • It acts as a way of closing down the barriers between the work that researchers produce and those who may benefit from it. 
  • In an increasingly globalised society and fragmented research climate, we will be better equipped to solve some of the ‘grand challenges’ of our day.

Why should research impact matter to researchers?

  • Because it matters to funders! Impact case studies assessment now informs 25% of annual university funding.
  • Competition for funding is increasing with demand for research funding currently outstripping supply.
  • It allows you to work towards impact and to consider the beneficiaries of your research at an earlier stage.  Impact has shown to be more significant the earlier in the project lifecycle in which stakeholders are involved.

How is impact measured?

There is a lot of controversy over the best ways to measure impact. Traditional ways to measure impact include;

  • The Impact Factor; A scientometric index used to measure journal influence that reflects the yearly average number of citations to recent articles published in the journal.
  • The Eigenfactor-similar to the impact factor but thought to be more reliable as it takes in to account not only citations but also the size of a journal to measure article influence

There are also non-traditional bibliometrics such as Altmetrics, which look at the online attention an article has received. 

However these are still a data led measure which focusses on indicators of impact rather than proven real-world impact.  Narrative based, qualitative indicators such as case-studies and reports are increasingly thought of as better ways to measure impact, that should be used alongside metrics to give a fuller picture. 

In this way, you as humanities researchers can be seen to be ahead of the curve, as you will be more used to evidencing your work in this way, relying less heavily on citations-based measures than those in the in STEM fields.

One thing is clear; the direction of travel is going to be increasingly focused on impact and you will be expected to dedicate time to it.

If you would like a bit more information, do watch our recent webinar about navigating the research impact landscape.

Kudos can help you, both to collate your online impact metrics and help you to write a clear, jargon free summary that ensures your work gets read and understood by wider audiences.  If you have not yet registered or added a plain language summary to your article we would encourage you to do so here.

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