Building the Concept of Research Impact Literacy

Bayley, J.E., & Phipps, D.J. (2017) Building the concept of research impact literacy. Evidence & Policy. Published on line September 11, 2017.
Impact is an increasingly significant part of academia internationally, both in centralised assessment processes (for example, UK) and funder drives towards knowledge mobilisation (for example, Canada). However, narrowly focused measurement-centric approaches can encourage shorttermism, and assessment paradigms can overlook the scale of effort needed to convert research into effect. With no ‘one size fits all’ template possible for impact, it is essential that the ability to comprehend and critically assess impact is strengthened within the research sector. In this paper we reflect on these challenges and offer the concept of impact literacy as a means to support impact at both individual and institutional levels. Opportunities to improve impact literacy are also discussed.
For the first time in this journal club series I am writing about one of my own articles. I chose this article because it was recent (September 2017) but also because it advances a new concept, research impact literacy. It was also among the top five most viewed papers in Evidence & Policy in 2017…not bad since it was only released in September! It is available as a Fast Track article at the link above.
The paper ends with a quote from Goethe. “Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do.” This article is about knowing.
The concept emerged from a Canada-UK collaboration (huge thanks and waving jazz hands @JulieEBayley) where we reflected on the absence of impact assessment (the “what” of impact…i.e. “what” change happened) in Canada. Impact in Canada is a feature of the grant application (as it is in the UK) where applicants describe “how” they will create impacts beyond their publications. The third leg of the stool (or as you will see in the article, the third circle in the Venn diagram) are the people “who” both create impacts (“how”) and assess impacts (“what”). There is a lot of literature in each of these but their inter-relationships are relatively unexplored.
The concept also emerged from three challenges in each of these areas of research impact:
1. How: Nonprescriptive routes to impact preclude templating and require individuals to judge how best to mobilise knowledge;
2. What: measurement-centric agendas coupled with narrow definitions require individuals to judge which impacts are realistic, achievable and demonstrable
3. Who: dispersed job functions risk missed opportunities and require individuals to develop and apply skills in isolation
Research impact literacy is about comprehension – the knowledge how to create impacts, what impacts to assess and the skills needed for both. There is clearly a causal link between knowing and doing with the greater your comprehension the greater your ability to do. As the article states, practitioners of research “are impact literate, they are able to identify appropriate impact goals and indicators, critically appraise and optimise impact pathways, and reflect on the skills needed to tailor approaches across contexts.”
In countries where the impact agenda is beginning to emerge, the concept of impact literacy can support strategic thinking to de-risk national, local and institutional approaches.” And here also is a new element to the literature on research impact. Most literature focuses on the individual research/partner/project or on the funder/national policies that drive impact practices. There is relatively little literature focusing on the roles of the institution.
Beyond the Venn diagram in Figure 1 check out the conceptual diagram in Figure 2 that includes institutional roles for who, what and how of impact.
Ultimately, “the concept of impact literacy presents an opportunity for individuals, institutions
and – as governors of impact expectations – funders and policymakers to scrutinise how impact is best achieved
The extension of impact literacy to funders and policy makers is yet to be undertaken. Stay tuned!
Questions for brokers:
1. Impact Literacy: useful concept or yet another framework that can’t be operationalized?
2. Where is your country/system strong and where do you need to build up capacity?
3. Literacy is about knowing. What is the gap between knowing about impact and doing impact? What does it take to move from knowing to doing? What are the risks of doing without knowing?
Research Impact Canada is producing this journal club series to make evidence on Knowledge Mobilization more accessible to knowledge brokers and to create on line discussion about research on knowledge mobilization. It is designed for knowledge brokers and other knowledge mobilization stakeholders. Read this open access article. Then come back to this post and join the journal club by posting your comments.