Drafting Societal Impact in Grant Applications

David Phipps was invited to write the following for the Society for Research Administrators International after he presented at their annual conference late in 2022. Please see the original post from SRAI.

Picture this. Caesars Palace. The Pompeian room. Standing room only at 11 am on November 4, 2022 at the SRAI conference. A truly international audience with participants from US, Canada, France, Nigeria, Nairobi, Brazil, Denmark and Qatar. That was the setting for my presentation on impact strategies in grant applications. 

York University (Toronto, Canada) has had a Knowledge Mobilization Unit since 2006. One of our jobs is to support researchers who are writing an impact strategy in grant applications. We have tools and training to help researchers with traditional, individual investigator grant applications. We invest our time as part of the grant support team for large scale, multi-million-dollar applications. After several years refining our approach at York and applying it to researchers in the Kids Brain Health Network we wrote about our practice in the Journal of Research Administration in 2016 (1). 

Let’s be clear off the top. I’m talking about societal impact – how research can have an impact beyond the university (public policy, professional practice, social services). Scholarly impact (journals, books, conference proceedings) are important but that’s not the impact we’re supporting. Think NSF and their broader impacts criterion. And then apply that thinking to other funders and other disciplines. 

At SRAI 2022 I presented on a tool that brings together all the elements of an impact strategy which then allows the researcher to draft the impact strategy in one or two pages if there is a discrete impact strategy section or embed impact into the research proposal depending on the requirements of the funder. It also allows the grants administrator to ensure the elements of an impact strategy are well described. 

Key to any societal impact strategy are the people the researcher is going to engage with before, during and after the research. Some applications ask for partners but not all “partners” are the same. Different “partners” will play different roles and therefore the researcher will engage them differently.

  • Stakeholders are those people and organizations who are interested in the research, but who aren’t going to be working directly with the researcher. They are the people you listen to so you can understand why someone other than the researcher thinks the topic is important. We listen to stakeholders.
  • Audiences/Receptors are those people and organizations who want to receive the outputs from the research. We disseminate to audiences/receptors.
  • Co-production partners are those people and organizations who will be part of the research. We work/collaborate with co-production partners. 

Since the granting agency wants impact on society, I recommend researchers figure out these “partners” first so that the impact strategy is meaningful for them and the researcher. Too frequently a researcher thinks they know what other people need without checking in with those other people. 

For more information you can get my slides from the presentation here and the tool for gathering the elements of an impact strategy is here. For more tools and recorded webinars that support diverse forms of knowledge mobilization and societal impact check out the resources from Research Impact Canada. Feel free to contact info@researchimpact.ca for more information on building institutional capacity for this work. For an American perspective check out Advancing Research Impact for Society led by U. Missouri, and one of their tools, the Broader Impact Wizard

(1) Phipps, D.J., Jensen, K.E., Johnny, M., Poetz, A. (2016) Supporting knowledge mobilization and research impact strategies in grant applications. Journal of Research Administration. 47(2):49-67 https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ1152268