Probably the most important thing David says. Researchers don’t make impact, partners do. So why do we ask researchers to report on impact?
C’est sans doute la chose la plus importante que dit David. L’impact ne se produit pas au départ, chez les chercheurs, mais à l’arrivée, chez les partenaires. Pourquoi, dans ce cas, demandons-nous aux chercheurs d’évaluer l’impact ?
Wait…what…researchers don’t make any impact? Of course they do. Researchers publish papers and build capacity by graduating students. Isn’t’ that impact? According to the Canadian Federation of Humanities and Social Sciences report on assessing impacts, research can contribute to building knowledge and building capacity but it can also contribute to cultural, economic, policy and social impact. It’s these latter impacts, those beyond the academy that are of interest to knowledge mobilization. But who really creates those impacts?
Researchers don’t make products, industry does. Researchers don’t develop public policy, government does. And researchers don’t deliver social services, community organizations do. So if we want research to have an impact on local and global citizens we do so by supporting researchers collaborating with partners from private, public and non-profit sectors.
Think about it…it’s not researchers making those impacts.
“Now hold on, just a minute there…what about clinical research?” Sure, your research in a medical clinic, in a classroom or in a social work setting will definitely benefit those patients, students or clients. But the challenge of research in practice based settings is to scale it beyond your clinic or your classroom. How can your research based intervention scale through your district, province, country or globally? Whose job is that? Again, probably not the researcher who published the paper. That’s where school boards, clinical practice associations, colleges regulating professional practice and even unions play a role.
SSHRC found this in their 2013 evaluation of their knowledge mobilization funding programs. SSHRC wanted to collect the evidence of impact of the projects they funded. They had three data sources:
1. End of grant reports: no evidence of impact since the impacts usually hadn’t happened
2. Interviews with researchers: few had any knowledge of impact since they weren’t the one’s making it
3. Interview with partners: only when SSHRC interview partners did they find the evidence of impact
In one case, provincial tax law changed because of a SSHRC funded collaboration between a researcher and a policy maker but the researcher knew nothing about the impact beyond the scholarly publications and the graduated students. Because it wasn’t the researcher who was making tax law, it was the government partner.
So if funders want evidence of impact why do they continue to ask researchers to complete impact assessment reports? According to their website, Researchfish is “leading the world in research impact assessment”. “Over 100K researchers report to their funders the outcomes, outputs and impact of their research into Researchfish” Why? If researchers are not making impact why are they the ones reporting on it?
Impact needs to be measured at the level of the end user. Go ahead and ask a researcher what s/he thinks happened. But don’t forget to also ask the partner organization.
Intrinsically linked to this is the way academic research funding traditionally is managed. Academic research funding seeks to create impact beyond the academy. If we accept that it is our partners making the ultimate impact, then why must most academic research funding be managed by the academic institution of the principle investigator? By holding onto money academic institutions hold onto power in the research to impact collaboration.
It gets even more perverse when we require our non-academic partners to commit cash and in-kind resources to the project. Not only do we need you to make the impact and we can’t pay you for your role but we expect you to pay your own way while the funder pays for my participation.
Not an equitable partnership at all.
In a SSHRC world a researcher can share funding with a non-academic partner but only if s/he is made a co-applicant instead of being relegated to a second-class partner or collaborator status. However, to be a co-applicant the partner needs a SSHRC or Canadian Common CV.
If an academic researcher wants to create an authentic (i.e. equitable) partnership (that isn’t about supply and demand of knowledge) with a non-academic partner then help the partner make a CV and make them a co-applicant. That’s what we did in KMb York when we partnered with United Way York Region on a CIHR KT grant and a SSHRC Public Outreach Grant. We transferred 75% of the funding to UWYR and they hired the project coordinator and directed the project because we made a CV for the CEO UWYR.
Share money. Share power. Make authentic partnerships that will fund activities from research to impact.