Research Impact as Ethos

Research Impact as Ethos

Rickards, L., Steele, W., Kokshagina, O. and Morales, O. (2020) Research Impact as Ethos. RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia.  

Executive Summary  

Existing dominant approaches to university research impact are not adequately meeting societal and planetary needs. Nor are they meeting societal expectations or building public trust. If academic institutions are to secure their future, they need to demonstrate a genuine commitment and capacity to work with others to achieve the transformational changes needed. Part of this challenge and opportunity is to re-imagine research impact as ethos. 

This is a report from RMIT University (Melbourne, Australia). It presents a new way of thinking about research impact described in three generations of research impact all with increasing engagement of partners/end users ultimately ending up with impact as ethos. 

Ethos: the characteristic spirit of a culture, era, or community. 

i.e. how does impact become the accepted culture of research? The report makes the call to action: “If academic institutions are to secure their future, they need to demonstrate a genuine commitment and capacity to work with others to achieve the transformational changes needed, including helping government deliver and demonstrate public value both as a higher education sector and through specific projects. Part of this challenge and opportunity is to re-imagine research impact.” 

The three generations of research impact can be summarized as follows. 

First Generation: 

  • Impact as an additional criterion for research excellence 
  • Used often to defend investments in university research 
  • Documented to have happened after the research by encouraging end users to adopt the research and/or translating and disseminating research beyond the academy 

Second Generation: 

  • Impact is co-produced with partners to generate outcomes valued by both academic and non-academic partners 
  • Impact is embedded from the beginning 
  • Replaces the “push” of first generation with iterative relationships 
  • Considers an impact ecosystem with supports embedded in the institution 
  • Cites research impact literacy as a model of second generation impact 

Third Generation:  

  • Usually challenge led – often a grand challenge such as UN SDGs 
  • Seeking transformational change 
  • Adopts a systems lens to acknowledge context and complexity and desirable change through intelligent interventions” 
  • Mobilizes results form interdisciplinary research needed to address grand challenges 

The report then makes seven provocations to get impact stakeholders thinking about the shifting contexts of impact.

  1. Research Impact is not just about research. 
  2. Impact starts and ends with the societal change we seek, rather than the research problem or project we have created. 
  3. There are many ways to get research impact right. ‘Best practice’ neglects context. 
  4. Research impact works in multiple ways. A single aim or indicator is overstated. 
  5. Research impact is always driven by values and ethics, and sometimes metrics and measurement.  
  6. A tokenistic or cynical impact culture encourages a lack of trust in research. 
  7. We are the research culture we seek to co-create. 

Questions for Brokers 

Seven questions based on seven provocations: read each one and discuss. 

Research Impact Canada is producing this journal club series to make evidence on KMb more accessible to knowledge brokers and to create online 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.