5 ways to fast track your impact
Today's task is simple and will take you just 10 minutes. Watch the video above and read on to find out about five ways you can fast track your impact.
These five evidence-based principles are the foundation for the programme that follows. They are based on peer-reviewed research I did with colleagues, and they have been used by thousands of researchers around the world who have attended Fast Track Impact training courses. Based on these principles, I will give you a series of tools and other ideas that will give you the ability and confidence to create a step change in the impact of your research.
The programme works best if you have a live research project to work on. I'll introduce you to Step 1 tomorrow, so you've got till then to come up with a project you can use.
What is impact?
Put simply, research impact is the good that researchers can do in the world. It consists of the non-academic benefits that arise, whether directly or indirectly, from research. Knowledge exchange is a precursor to impact, and this happens through learning, when the data and information from research becomes knowledge that people can benefit from or use. There are many factors that can influence the likelihood of research leading to impact, including the context you are working in, who is involved and how, your approach to knowledge exchange and how well you manage power dynamics.
There are many different types of impact, with some types of impact leading to others. Table 1 shows you nine types of impact you can look for.
Table 1: Research impact typology
Five principles emerged from the original research I conducted on research impact, which I have further substantiated and built upon through my more recent empirical research on knowledge exchange processes around the world.
Principle 1: Design
The first principle is to know the impacts you want to achieve and design impact into your research from the outset. I think most of us are pretty good at coming up with research questions and objectives, but we're not used to setting objectives for our impact. If you have a clear idea of exactly what change you would like to see as a result of your research, you can make a plan to get there, and you're immediately much more likely to achieve impact. The first step, which I'll introduce to you tomorrow, will enable you to start thinking critically about the impacts you would like to see as a result of your research.
Principle 2: Represent
The second principle emphasises the value of systematically representing the needs and priorities of those who might be interested in or use your research.
Many of us are fairly sure we already know who is most likely to be interested or might benefit from our research. If not, then we'll typically open our address books and the address books of our colleagues to get some ideas of the sorts of people we might want to engage with. The problem is that most of us only have fairly vague ideas about the sort of people who might be interested in our work outside the academy. And we often forget that the address book approach is likely to be highly biased towards certain groups of people and may lead us to overlook important groups of people who would have been interested if we had only identified them at the start.
The second step will show you how to systematically identify stakeholders and publics who may be interested in your research. These include the 'beneficiaries' we typically think of first, as well as groups who may be disadvantaged or negatively affected by our research, and those who may have the power to enable us or block us from completing our research and acheiving our impacts.
Principle 3: Engage
The third principle is the most important of all the principles. If you were to boil this whole programme down into a single word, it would be 'empathy', and it is encapsulated in this principle. To have an impact, you need to build long-term, two-way, and trusting relationships with those who will use your research, so you can ideally co-generate new knowledge together. This is about having two-way dialogue as equals with the likely users of your research, not lecturing them or doing 'knowledge transfer'. You need to think of ways that you can maintain relationships beyond the typical life-cycle of a PhD project or research project e.g. by engaging colleagues who will be in post for the long-term, and by continuing to engage between projects via social media, newsletters and offering seminars etc. This approach will pay dividends in the end, whether in terms of future jobs and collaborations, or in terms of getting that crucial letter of support for your next research proposal. However, investing in relationships takes time. So the third step in the programme will help you to become significantly more efficient so that you have more time to engage in impact generating activities, whilst also improving your work-life balance.
Principle 4: Early impacts
The next principle might seem self-evident, but we need to remember that what we might view as impact might be quite different to the people we want to benefit from our research. In particular, researchers have a habit of thinking of impact over periods of at least three years, whereas many of the people we want to work with will be expecting impacts in weeks and months. Partly this is about managing expectations, but partly, it is about trying your best to deliver tangible results as soon as possible, that can help keep people engaged with your work. There are a bunch of quick wins that most of us can provide fairly easily, for example:
Regular non-academic briefings/updates
Early publication of literature reviews, and where possible turning these into more digestible briefing notes
Co-ordinate milestone timings with your stakeholders to match decision-maker needs
We'll explore this in more depth in the fourth step of the programme.
Principle 5: Reflect & Sustain
Finally, you need to keep track of what works, so you can improve your knowledge exchange, and continue nurturing relationships and generating impacts in the long-term. In the second step, you will come up with an impact plan that integrates simple indicators you can use to track whether or not your activities are taking you forwards or backwards along your pathway to impact. In addition to this, try and regularly reflect on your knowledge exchange and impacts with your research team and key stakeholders. Learn from your peers and share good practice.
This course is entirely self-contained, but if you'd like to get a copy of the accompanying handbook you can find out more about it here. I will be publishing the second edition soon, and I am giving away exclusive free access to the majority of the new content to those who join my mailing list, if you are interested in subscribing via the link on my contact page. Also check out my resources page for free Research Impact Guides, templates, examples of good practice, my podcast, magazine and good practice library of pathways to impact from grant applications.
If you've watched the video and read this far, then you've already done the first two tasks. If you've not already got a project in mind, your final task for today is to come up with some research that you will apply each of the five steps to. So before you receive your email tomorrow morning with the first step, here are your tasks:
Watch the video at the top of this page
Read the text below the video
Identify a research project that you would like to generate impacts from
I'll see you back here tomorrow!
Have fun till then,