Impact statements . . . something for after you have written up your scientific case and planned your workflow? Think again! But it’s not all doom and gloom, there are real advantages in careful consideration for impact.
As the Research Impact Officer I have reviewed numerous impact statements from a wide range of funding bodies; these are the most common errors I see in impact statements, and top tips on how to avoid these:
Non-academic beneficiaries are an afterthought or have not been identified: funding bodies expect consideration of all potential beneficiaries, not just those who are directly involved in the project or those you already have existing contact with. They do not expect you to involve them all but you should show that they have been considered or have a route to engage them at a later stage.
TOP TIP: talking to colleagues or undertaking a self-assessment exercise can help consider the broader range of beneficiaries that may be influenced by your research outcomes; our internal Identifying Beneficiaries worksheet can be a useful exercise to undertake.
Not including pathways to engage identified stakeholders: I often see stakeholders/users described in project summaries and case for support that are then ignored in the pathways to impact statements, or vice versa. You should consider routes to reach out to identified users even if they are not directly involved during the project; if it is not appropriate or feasible to engage them explain why. Non-academic project partners are also beneficiaries so don’t forget to mention how they will be involved and benefit from your pathways to impact activities.
TOP TIP: prioritising your list of beneficiaries can be a useful way to identify key cohorts that you should aim to engage with; our Prioritising Beneficiaries worksheet is a good exercise to undertake to help with this.
Duplication of information in the Impact Summary and Pathways to Impact: the impact statements in your application have specific requirements, you should not need to duplicate or repeat any information, you can refer to other sections but the information flow should build on other areas not repeat them. If you are tempted to copy/paste information go back and check the call guidance, this will help to clarify what you need to include.
TOP TIP: Consider your Impact Summary to be the introduction to your Pathways to Impact and treat them as the same statement when you draft, this way you will be less likely to repeat information.
Impact Summary: Introduces the non-academic beneficiaries of your research and explains how they might benefit from the project.
Pathways to Impact: Describes the activities you are undertaking to reach your identified beneficiaries.
Academic activities are included in the Pathways to Impact: academic conferences, workshops that engage academic colleagues or students, and publication plans should be in the Academic Beneficiaries section of your proposal. The Pathways to Impact should contain routes to engage societal (non-academic) beneficiaries.
TOP TIP: Our Pathways to Impact Toolkit will help to develop impact statements and identify the information required in the Impact Summary, Pathways to Impact and Academic Beneficiaries sections of your proposal.
Not making impact integral to the project: pathways to impact plans that have been written late in the application process or where key beneficiaries have not been considered are easily identified during assessment. Planned activities tend not to link with the timeframe of project activities outlined in the case for support and feedback from beneficiaries is not utilised as a means to benefit the ongoing project.
TOP TIP: Cross-reference your pathways to impact activities with your project workflow and case for support and include them in any project plan/Gantt Chart. Plan to use any feedback and outcomes obtained from engaged beneficiaries to feed in and inform your project going forward.
Pathways to Impact and associated statements in funding applications are being considered and reviewed in more depth by most funding bodies including the UK Funding Councils (RCUK), EU and charity funders. It is becoming common to see specific impact requirements built into call criteria, making impact an integral part of the application.
Reaching out and involving beneficiary groups can lead to stronger relationships, wider benefits and potential for longer term collaborations and partnership opportunities.
For RCUK applications the Impact Summary and Pathways to Impact statements are a standard requirement. But beware, there may be other criteria such as a ‘dissemination’ section under the case for support or specific impact requirements outlined in the call criteria.
Other funding bodies also build in impact criteria and may have specific sections asking for impact statements, be mindful, these may not always mention that dreaded word ‘impact’ but may ask questions such as ‘how will you engage end users with your research’ or ‘how will you ensure societal benefits arise from your research’.
Dee Summers is Research Impact Officer for the University of Portsmouth and writes here in a personal capacity. If you would like to contact Dee please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Staff at the University of Portsmouth can also access the Impact resources on google.