Written by Dr Kathy Barrett, University Lead for Research Staff Development
From our last blog you will have found out more about why impact is important and why you should engage with it. How you do it will depend on your imagination, your skills and what it is you are trying to achieve.
What would you like to achieve from your research? A good starting point could be something that would fit within the academic branch of impact, bringing new ideas, new knowledge and new methodologies to your colleagues in your field. Take, for example one of our alumni, Peter Higgs. His research identified the potential existence of the Higgs Boson, which led to major changes in the way particle physicists approach their research. It is possibly unlikely that he would have known just how profoundly his research would influence his field, but maybe he had some idea and his first step in having impact was to disseminate his findings effectively. If you have new ideas, knowledge or methodologies, thinking about how to disseminate them before you start your research is already a step in the right direction.
What else would you like to achieve? Most academics would like to think that their research will do some good in society, and this is where the other branch of impact as defined by the Research Councils UK (RCUK), social & economic impact, comes in. The RCUK define this as the demonstrable contribution that excellent social and economic research makes to society and the economy, and its benefits to individuals, organisations and/or nations. The most obvious outlet for many when they read this is some form of public engagement. An excellent example of this is a recent exhibition put together by King’s Analytical and Environmental Sciences Division in which they joined forces with artists, DJs and performers to highlight the effects of pollution on our lungs and how we, the public, can reduce the amount of harmful pollution we create. An activity such as this is likely to change behaviour amongst the public.
While public engagement is the kind of activity that most often springs to mind there are myriad other ways in which your research could have impact beyond your academic environment. Take for example the recently formed partnership between King’s Forensics and the Metropolitan Police. In this project King’s are assisting police by providing access to the latest technology available for forensic investigations. For King’s this means also that they have plenty of material to work with in researching new methodologies that will help in fighting crime. This, the above example and many others can be found on King’s Spotlight.
Policy is another area where your research can have impact. King’s is unique in having the Policy Institute, a department that carries out research and works with policy-makers. A current project is a collaborative effort with the Institut Montaigne in Paris that brings together senior military and civilian personnel, academics and industry specialists to examine the prospects for continued defence cooperation between the UK and France.
Other sectors in which your research can have impact include industry and business with knowledge exchange and generation of new products, and charity, for example understanding why people might volunteer. There are some great examples on the Research Councils UK in these areas. In one of the Research Councils UK case studies Prof Richard Aldrich from Warwick talks about how one less quantifiable but nevertheless important aspect of the impact of his research is that one of his early career researchers took up a position advising the International Spy Museum in Washington and two other have gained fellowships. This kind of outcome can only be a positive benefit.