Impact is Measured by Talking to Partners Not Researchers / L’impact se mesure en parlant aux partenaires plutôt qu’aux chercheurs

Researchers either don’t know or overestimate the impact of their research beyond the academy. Here are some ways to foster closer connections between researchers and policy makers and identify stories where research had an impact beyond the academy.
Soit les chercheurs ne connaissent pas l’impact de leurs travaux à l’extérieur de l’université, soit ils le surestiment. Voici quelques clés pour favoriser les liens entre chercheurs et responsables des politiques, et pour reconnaitre les cas où la recherche a bel et bien eu un effet sur le monde extérieur.
LSE Impact Blog logoThe LSE Impact Blog posted a blog by Michele Ferguson, Brian Head, Adrian Cherney and Paul Boreham (University of Queensland) about their study examining the use of academic research evidence by policy makers. One key finding is that academics overestimate the use of academic research by policy makers. “Our results demonstrate a disparity between academics’ perception of the impact of their research and the opinions of public sector staff surveyed.”
This is reminiscent of the findings of SSHRC’s evaluation of their Connections program which evaluated all of their knowledge mobilization funding programs from meeting grants, to journal grants to partnership grants. SSHRC published their findings in September 2013. They found that end of grant reports were not effective for identifying impacts beyond the academy. Consistent with the Queensland post they found that researchers were also not very effective at reporting on impacts. Only partners on knowledge mobilization grants were able to indicate the impacts that occurred.
Makes sense. Since it is the partners who are going to use research to make the products, develop the policies or deliver the services that will eventually have an impact on Canadians then it makes sense to assess research impacts at the level of our partners, not our researchers.
My #1 rule of impact is that impact is measured at the level of our partners.
Don’t ask researchers to tell you about the impacts of their research. Stay in touch with your partners for many years following the conclusion of the research. Although, neither our funders nor any institution without a knowledge mobilization unit is structured to collect these stories of impacts.  See below for our approach.
Obvious question: Why do we still rely on researcher reporting for evidence of impact?
Back to the LSE Blog post: The authors cite challenges policy makers face when trying to use academic research to inform policy decision. None of the observations are new or surprising but what the authors do that is helpful is make suggestions to help researchers and research institutions enhance the connections between research(ers) and policy (makers). This serves as a useful checklist for knowledge mobilization practices and is illustrated below with examples from our practice at York University’s Knowledge Mobilization Unit.
For academic research to have an influence, it must be accessible.

  • York trains researchers and students to write according to clear language writing and design principles and we have produced over 200 ResearchSnapshot clear language research summaries in a searchable database. Read more about these in Scholarly & Research Communications.

Take the time and effort to build and maintain relationships

  • We routinely attend meetings of policy partners including the Human Service Planning Board of York Region and as recently as November 2 we attended the policy research forum of the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities hosting a booth to present our knowledge mobilization services.

Ascertain preferred modes of communication and maintain regular contact.

  • One of our four service streams is acting as a knowledge broker to identify and support collaborations between non-academic partners and academic researchers/students. We received over 400 requests for cialis 2006. These 400 requests come from over 200 non-academic organizations so we have a number of repeat customers.

Create opportunities for bringing academics and policy-makers together.

  • One of our service streams is supporting knowledge mobilization events. Our flagship event is KM in the AM where we hold events off campus addressing research opportunities identified by our partners. You can read more about KM in the AM and our research forums in another paper in Scholarly & Research Communications.

And I would add an additional suggestion:
Stay in touch with research partners to identify the stories of impact

  • At York every partner for whom we brokered a project with one of our researchers receives a phone call every year until we are told that nothing further came of the research or until we get a story of impact such as a new social service or public policy that arose as a result of the collaboration. Note “receives a phone call”. We do not survey our partners. Our partners do not respond to surveys (who does?). We stay in touch with our partners over the course of years, often 3-5 years following the research because research doesn’t inform decisions overnight. You can read about one such impact study in the Journal of Community Engagement and Scholarship and see the video of this example where the researcher talks about the impact of a research collaboration on a youth emergency shelter. The research undertaken in 2007. We told the story in 2012.

As illustrated by the Queensland research and the SSHRC evaluation, impact is measured at the level of our partners. Listen to your researchers. But proactively stay in touch with your partners.