Extending Research Impact Literacy

Bayley, J.E. and Phipps, D. (2019) Extending the Concept of Research Impact Literacy: levels of literacy, institutional role and ethical considerations. Emerald Open Research. 1:14 https://emeraldopenresearch.com/articles/1-14/v1 



Building on the concept of ‘impact literacy’ established in a previous paper from Bayley and Phipps, here we extend the principles of impact literacy in light of further insights into sector practice. More specifically, we focus on three additions needed in response to the sector-wide growth of impact: (1) differential levels of impact literacy; (2) institutional impact literacy and environment for impact; and (3) issues of ethics and values in research impact. This paper invites the sector to consider the relevance of all dimensions in establishing, maintaining and strengthening impact within the research landscape. We explore implications for individual professional development, institutional capacity building and ethical collaboration to maximise societal benefit. 


This month I am writing about our own work on research impact literacy. This paper, published on Emerald Open Research, updates an earlier paper published in Evidence & Policy (and still available on fast track). The extended concept published summer 2019 adds some important features. 

  • Introduces levels of literacy: basic, intermediate and advanced. For individuals this is aware of the evidence on impact, engaged with the evidence on impact, critical of the evidence of impact. For institutions this is supportive of research impact, enabling research impact and driving research impact. 
  • Introduces the “why” of impact to complement the “who”, “what” and “how” of impact. “Why” includes the reason for undertaking impact, the ethics of impact (see blog on grimpacts and himpacts) and the values that underpin the pursuit of impact. 
  • Extends the concept of institutional research impact literacy as mentioned in #1 above. 

It is this last element that I feel has the most immediate potential for making an impact on impact. Most impact literature is focused on the tools and practices at the research(er) level by understanding, supporting and assessing impact in research projects. The institution plays a critical role in mediating between the public policies that drive impact (i.e. REF in UK, PBRF in New Zealand, E&I in Australia) and the researchers who are undertaking impact related work. But the roles of the institution are almost always overlooked. Our extended concept of research impact literacy identifies five elements which may be used to assess an institution’s readiness to support impact in a healthy manner: commitment, connectivity, coproduction, competencies, clarity. 

These 5Cs form the basis of a tool that is underpinned by this published article. The Institutional Impact Health Workbook (also published by Emerald and available here) allows institutions to “diagnose” along the 5Cs, identify gaps, develop a “prescription” and encourages a check up at 6, 12 and 24 months after implementing the prescription.  

Institutional practices, policies and services are the focus of Research Impact Canada. While we ultimately want to support our researchers, students and their research partners at the project level, we work as a community of practice sharing institutional practices and learning from each other. For the most part we are research and related support/professional staff. We are not researchers. 

But here’s one gap in what is an important extension to an important concept: it remains a concept. The concept is derived from our practices but has yet to empirically interrogated. In the words of Amanda Cooper, a reviewer on the article, “I really enjoyed reading this article, and the length of this review is indicative of how thought-provoking the concept of research impact literacy is to me! I cannot stress enough the contribution to the field that Bayley and Phipps are making by trailblazing tools and models from the ground up on how to go about understanding and measuring research impact. This article should be indexed – and I look forward to empirically interrogating it further in my work. (emphasis added) 

Amanda, we remain ready to be studied! 


Questions for brokers:

  • What is the focus of your impact function: the individual or the institution? Why? 
  • Institutional health check also works (with a little adaptation ie language around students/faculty) for non-academic organizations seeking to broker evidence. Is your organization or institution ready to support impact? Is it supporting, enabling or driving impact? How do you know (i.e. did you use the Healthcheck tool)? 
  • Open research publishing. Where the manuscript is published in days, available in open access and the reviews and the reviewers are open. Is this a terrifying or exciting disruption of scholarly publishing? 


Research Impact Canada is producing this journal club series as a way to make evidence on KMb 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