In January, UKRI surprised the research community with an announcement that it would be dropping the Pathways to Impact attachment and the Impact Summary, which became mandatory for all Research Council proposals back in 2009. The line is that these changes have been pushed through by the UK government to reduce bureaucracy in research proposals.
There hasn’t been a huge amount of information since, but what we do know for sure is that building in meaningful Impact, and being able to evidence it, will remain central to producing competitive research proposals. In this post we will cover what we know so far about the change to UKRI proposals, and how you can make sure that impact is still properly considered and embedded within your proposals.
What is impact?
“Impact” can refer to either the advancement of academic knowledge or the creation of benefits for a variety of stakeholders in wider society.
- Academic impact: Here the impact relates to its contribution to academic advances, across and within disciplines, including significant advances in understanding, methods, theory and application.
- Impacts beyond Academia: This is assessed in the REF, who define it as “an effect on, change or benefit to the economy, society, culture, public policy or services, health, the environment or quality of life, beyond academia”. Most impacts emerge from your research through translation activities, direct engagement with the beneficiaries of your findings. Stakeholders can range from individuals, to groups, communities, institutions, corporations, and government. The engagement activities to create these benefits can range from the convening of workshops to the co-creation of an app, and everything in-between and beyond.
As of March 1st, 2020, applicants to funders under the UK Research and Innovation umbrella (including all Research Councils) will no longer be required to submit a Pathways to Impact attachment or ‘impact summary’. UKRI have explained that ultimately these provided little benefit when making funding decisions.
Over the next 12 months, UKRI will be “piloting simpler, streamlined application and assessment processes for its research and innovation calls.” The new process will require only an anonymous Case for Support to be submitted in the initial stage, accompanied by a two-page track record, with detailed costings being requested only after decisions have been made.
The Research Office will provide further information on the result of this pilot when it is available.
Je-S will be updating schemes across UKRI to reflect the change. The system won’t close to make the change but throughout the working week 24-29 February updates will happen. Each of the 7 research councils will publish call-specific guidance detailing how this change is being managed – click here for information and links.
How do I build impact into proposals?
It’s important to say that, even though these specific impact sections are removed, this is simply an attempt to reduce the burden of form filling. UKRI have been at pains to underline that, as they put it: “the impact agenda is vital – UK Research and Innovation exists to fund the researchers who generate the knowledge that society needs, and the innovators who can turn this knowledge into public benefit.” From now on, in conceiving research work, it will be far less easy to package impact quite literally as an attachment. It must be “a core consideration throughout the grant application process” and what is now needed is “to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the processes we use”. The Case for Support will be expected to include information regarding the key stakeholders for the research and how they will benefit from your project.
UKRI has provided Guidance for applicants
Talk about your team’s ability to deliver impact in your track record section. If you have evidence of achieving impact for related groups or areas in the past, it will convince reviewers you can deliver this again.
Make sure your outputs are co-created with stakeholders where appropriate. If you are designing a policy brief as a project output, seek feedback from the target audience to make sure what you produce is as useful and relevant as possible. This can be covered in the research methodology of your proposal.
Make sure you build in SMART impact goals: ensure they are as specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound (SMART) as possible. You can talk about the evaluation of impact in the project management section of the Case for Support. State expected impact right after each deliverable, summarise impacts and how you will disseminate them at the end of the document.
How impact is considered will vary from call to call, so be sure to check the specific call guidance to know how you will be affected.
It may seem daunting at first to leap into integrated impact writing and the Research Office is here to help. There are a variety of frameworks and tools available to help build up from blue skies research or back from proposed impacts. For more information contact firstname.lastname@example.org
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