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Some Advice About Impact

Almost any funding application requires you to summarize the academic impact of your research, and many take it a step further and ask for the economic and social impact as well. For the U.K. research councils, that latter statement comes in the form of the newly renamed Pathways to Impact, a two-page proposal document attached to grant application forms. Researchers are expected to explain who could benefit from their work and what steps they will take to reach those beneficiaries.

Cora O’Reilly, Information and Communications Technology Manager with the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), led a workshop at the University of Cambridge last week to give some guidance on completing the Pathways to Impact document. Here are some of her top tips:

  • Remember that your application will go through a peer review process, and you will have to convince those peer reviewers about the impact of your research.
  • Social impact — that is, how you will enhance quality of life and public services — is ranked as highly as the economical impact of research.
  • When thinking about social impact, think about who your audience is and how you can better engage with them. For example, could you publish your work in an additional publication that will have a wider appeal than a specialty journal?
  • Be clear and explain what exactly you will do, and remember that you don’t have to completely fill all of the pages in the Pathways to Impact document. Your proposal will benefit from being clear and concise.
  • Given how many different ways that research can benefit the economy or society, it’s unlikely that your work won’t have any impact. Simply stating that your research won’t have any impact isn’t sufficient; if that’s what you put in your proposal, you will be expected to explain why this is the case.
  • You can apply for additional funds from your research council to help you fulfil your Pathways to Impact proposal. Extra funding is available, for example, to cover additional publication costs, training or employing people to translate your technical research so that it can be understood by a general audience.

There is an FAQ section and more tips on the Research Councils U.K. Pathways to Impact Web site.

-Sarah Reed

One comment on “Some Advice About Impact”

  1. Chris Stokes

    A couple of points:
    1. How do the research councils ensure that peer reviewers do not give undue weight to economic impacts?
    2. In its recent report (published 23 March) on ‘The impact of spending cuts on science and scientific research’, the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee made the following recommendation:
    ‘[M]isconceptions persist about the role of impact in grant applications and it seems that many assessors and those being assessed think that they are being asked to “predict” impacts, when in fact the purpose is to stimulate thought about how impact might be developed. It is up to the Research Councils to improve the guidance they provide, and we urge them to act to clear up the misunderstanding. We do not believe that the consideration of pathways to potential impacts should be used as a tie-breaker in grant applications.’
    It will be interesting to see what impact this advice has on impact at RCUK and the research councils.

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