Impact: A Short Introduction

Written by Nadia Xarcha, Research Information Coordinator, Faculty of Arts & Humanities

Yes, you’ve heard about it! Your PI or line manager has mentioned it at some point and your research colleagues talk about it during their coffee break. Questions like – who came up with impact in the first place? Why do I have to think about it? Why can’t I just concentrate on my research? – have definitely crossed your mind a few times.  I know, it might be overwhelming but I have news for you: You’re already delivering impact!

What is it exactly and when was it introduced?

‘Impact’ was introduced a few years ago for the purposes of the REF[1] and there are several definitions but impact, in simple words, is the benefit of research to society. What has changed (behaviour, practice, etc.) as a result of your research? Examples of impact might be the alteration of public policy, the introduction of a new school curriculum, the improvement of patients’ health and many, many others that cannot be demonstrated in a short post. Just browse through the old impact case studies and you will rediscover the beauty of conducting research.

And why does it matter so much?

In REF terms, impact was developed in order to showcase the reach and significance of research and to allow external audits of how public money is spent. But impact is not and should not be just about the REF. It is the link that makes researchers’ work known to people from outside research who otherwise might not have been engaged, even though it might deeply affect them. It helps researchers reflect on their research questions and outcomes and conduct better research in the long term. It motivates them to communicate their research in simple words to a wider audience.

Should an early career researcher engage with impact?

It’s a personal decision but I would encourage you to do so as it is helpful for the development of your research career. As an early career researcher, you definitely have a lot in mind and impact might seem to be the cherry on the cake, but I think this is not the way to see it! Impact can actually be satisfying. What I would suggest is that you focus on doing exceptional research and enjoy that journey. The ‘impact element’ of your research will then emerge naturally. And we have plenty of resources (people, training, seed funds, etc.) here at King’s to support you with it at every stage of your research (the earlier the better). Just talk to us. Remember, you’re not alone in this

[1] REF: Research Excellence Framework is the system for assessing the quality of research in UK higher education institutions.

Public Engagement – But Why?

Written by Dr Nigel Eady 

“So what is it you actually do?” It’s a question that many researchers get asked by friends and family, at parties, over a meal, or almost anywhere. How do you respond? Which version do you give them – the big picture, sounds interesting but is far from the day to day reality, or the fine detail, might send them to sleep version? Is this public engagement? Well, it certainly could be, but most people would define public engagement much more broadly.

I would describe it as ‘any process through which people interact with research’. Personally, I think, the more interesting types of public engagement involve as much ‘listening’ by researchers as they do ‘telling’. Giving people information is important, but having a dialogue, a two-way conversation, can be even more useful, for both parties. You might even think of engagement as being a broad spectrum of approaches.

In recent years, public engagement has moved from being under the radar, to being required explicitly by funders, see the 2010 Concordat for Engaging the Public with Research and RCUK webpages. Whilst some would definitely debate whether it is really a part of normal research practice, it is only going to become more important. The requirement for impact case studies as part of the Research Excellence Framework is another important factor.

One important reason to do public engagement is that much research is conducted with public money, and people therefore have a right to understand how that money is being spent and what it’s achieving. But if that’s not sufficient for you to consider engaging people, here are my 5 top reasons for engaging publics.

1. Enhance your communication skills

For five years I ran various projects to help researchers engage people. It showed me, time and again, that the discipline of having to explain your research to someone else is invaluable for teaching you to communicate more clearly, simply and engagingly.

2. Ask better research questions

As well as communicating better, it’s remarkable the number of times that the questions people ask about your research lead to fresh insights, even new avenues of research.

3. Attract funding

There are many small funding schemes for public engagement. In fact we have one ourselves! By successfully winning funding for activities, not only will you learn how to write a persuasive funding bid, you will also demonstrate to potential, future funders your commitment to your research.

4. Increase your enjoyment

Any form of engagement can be a welcome relief from the rigours of defending your research to your peers! It can also be a helpful reminder as to why you do what you do.

5 .Strengthen democracy

Engaging people with research has a key role to play in opening up decision-making. You can involve people who feel disconnected from society and build trust in public institutions. It’s also an easy way for universities to respond to social need, in particular, at the local level.

Don’t just take my word for it! There are many more reasons to do public engagement. Who knows, you might just feel a little bit more comfortable when you’re asked, “So what is it you do?”