Connecting Impact Pathways to Actual Impacts / Raccorder la trajectoire à l’impact

Researchers are crafting impact strategies in grant applications. Are they getting any help from their universities and their institutional research administrators?

Dans leurs demandes de subvention, les chercheurs mettent au point des stratégies d’impact. Reçoivent-ils de l’aide pour ce faire de la part de leur université et des administrateurs de la recherche?

Fast Track Impact logoMore from the world of impact in the UK, this time a reflection on a post by Mark Reed and Sarah Buckmaster from February 2016. Sarah and Mark compared the impact pathways from research teams who had been awarded the highest scores for impact in the Research Excellence Framework 2014. For more on REF 2014, see this journal club and last week’s post.

The seven studies presented span health, social sciences and humanities with impacts on policy, professional practice and culture – this diversity suggests the 10 common elements of impact pathways are not unique to any discipline or sector. The 10 common elements are: clear connectivity from overall vision to objectives and impact; specificity; tailor made impact; build in flexibility; assign responsibility – name names; demonstrate demand; highlight collaborative partnerships; don’t ignore sensitivities; think long term; record everything.

I’m not going to go into detail in each of these because Mark and Sarah have done that in their post.

ARMA logoWhat I will reflect on is the role of the university helping researchers craft these specific impact pathways in their applications. ARMA – the association supporting university research administrators (those people who are hired to help you craft your grant applications) – has a specific group interested in impact. It is not just the job of the grant applicant to ensure impact strategies incorporate these 10 key success elements. It is also the job of institutions to support researchers crafting their grant applications. How many ARMA members receive specific training not only as REF officers collecting the evidence of impact but also in supporting impact strategies in grant applications? This list of 10 key success elements could form a checklist for ARMA members to use to not only assess strategies at application review before submission but also to build capacity of researchers before they start writing the application (a new product idea for Fast Track Impact – you can thank me later, Mark).

At York University (Toronto, Canada), we have published on our process for supporting impact in grant applications. We also lead Research Impact Canada, a network of 12 universities building capacity to support impacts of research. We don’t have a formal impact assessment process like the REF but most Canadian funding programs require the equivalent of impact pathways. Because of this requirement we are sharing tools and building expertise to support impact at the institutional level. This is only now coming onto the radar of CARA (the Canadian ARMA) with an impact planning and assessment workshop I am delivering on May 7 at the CARA annual conference.

It would be interesting to ask the authors of these highly successful impact strategies what support they received from their institution during the grant application process. This would demonstrate if there is existing impact expertise in research administrators or if there is a skills gap and an opportunity for institutions to invest in capacity building to support impact which, in turn, will support success in the REF. It is a little late to start to build capacity to support impact in an application that won’t be funded until 2018 at the earliest and therefore won’t likely contribute to impacts in REF 2021. But Mark and Sarah advocate thinking long term. REF 2026 is just around the corner, at least in terms of impact which can take years after the funded grant project to manifest.

And don’t forget to call Canada. We are happy to share our supports for impact in grant applications and look forward to learning from UK experts as well. CARA and ARMA are already collaborating on accreditation for research administrators. Maybe impact could be part of this exchange. Just ask @JulieEBayley.

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