The Who, What and How of Research Impact / L’impact de la recherche : le qui, le quoi et le comment

David Phipps has just returned from three weeks in the UK for his Fellowship funded by the Association of Commonwealth Universities. Working with his Fellowship partner, Julie Bayley (Coventry University), he became immersed in research impacts mediated through public engagement, commercialization, entrepreneurship, internationalization and knowledge exchange. This affords the opportunity for a trans-Atlantic comparison of the people who are creating and assessing the many impacts of research. You can help by participating in a survey to help us figure this out.

David Phipps rentre tout juste d’un voyage de trois semaines au Royaume-Uni, où il a avancé les travaux qu’il réalise à titre de boursier de l’Association of Commonwealth Universities. Avec sa partenaire de subvention, Julie Bayley (de la Coventry University), il s’est penché sur l’impact produit par l’engagement dans le domaine public, la commercialisation, l’entrepreneuriat, l’internationalisation et l’échange de connaissances.Cela ouvre la porte à une comparaison transatlantique des personnes qui créent et qui évaluent les multiples impacts de la recherche.Vous pouvez les aider à mettre de l’ordre dans tout cela en participant à un sondage.

Julie Bayley and David Phipps

Julie Bayley and David Phipps

If research impact were a coin it would have two sides: heads (research impact assessment) and tails (knowledge mobilization that creates impacts of research). My Canadian experience is almost wholly knowledge mobilization – the practices and tools that help to maximize the economic, social and environmental impacts of research. Driven by the REF (see below), Julie’s UK experience is almost wholly capturing the evidence of impact and connecting the steps in the narrative that describes the pathway(s) from research to impact beyond the academy.

But despite our different perspectives on impact we have a lot of common language that allows us to navigate to our collaboration which explores the skills and competencies of knowledge brokers. These similarities among differences is reminiscent of a previous post where I attended the International School of Research Impact Assessment.

The primary difference between the two approaches to research impact is the UK’s Research Excellence Framework (REF). The REF allocated funding to universities based, in part, on their ability to articulate the impacts of their research beyond the academy. The evidence of impact, predicated on as established body of codified scholarship, was presented in a narrative case study that was then assessed by panels of academic and non-academic expertise. REF was a research impact assessment exercise affecting the entire post-secondary system in the UK. Administering the REF cost the UK £250 million although some estimates are up to four times that amount.

But here’s the thing….REF assessed impacts arising from pre-existing research. Outside of supports for commercialization and entrepreneurship there are few institutional and no system wide support networks for non-commercial impacts in the UK. This is in contrast to the Canadian experience where there is no system wide assessment of impacts beyond the academy but there are institutional efforts to help researchers and their partners create impacts exemplified by the 12 university members of ResearchImpact-RéseauImpactRecherche, Canada’s knowledge mobilization network.

Canada has developed the tools and processes to create impact (the “how” of impact). The UK has developed methods to assess and articulate impacts (the “what” of impact). My work with Julie began with these differences and progressed to focus on the “who” of impact: the public engagement officers, knowledge brokers and REF staff. We know how to support impact. We know how to assess impact. We know less about the people actually working across the spectrum from stakeholder engagement to partnership development to impact assessment.

You can help us out. If you are a working in a role that supports research impact, no matter how tangentially, then we welcome your participation in our survey. In about 20 minutes you can let us know your experiences practicing different skills and competencies in your job. You can take the survey at It will be live until January 31, 2016.

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