The day has come at last - I'm launching the second edition of The Research Impact Handbook on Amazon today in paperback and on Kindle. In this blog, I'll tell you why I wrote it and what's new in the second edition...
The long wait
One of the great things about self-publishing is that you don't have the long wait between finishing your book and seeing it in print that you usually have with traditional publishers. However, we had to wait a whole extra month before we could launch the second edition on Amazon because it took our printer so much longer than anticipated to get through the bulk pre-orders. This wasn't helped by a hot summer that caused their printing press to literally go into melt-down. They've since been printing the book on night-shift, and now finally we have the first batch that you can get your hands on...
Why a second edition?
Since the first edition of this book was published in 2016, it has been reprinted five times and used to train almost 5000 researchers from >200 institutions in 55 countries. As I have taken the book on the road, I have seen people’s perceptions of impact transformed as they gain the confidence and skills they need to effect genuine lasting change through their work.
However, as I have conducted further research into the effects of the impact agenda, I have also noticed growing disquiet about some of the negative unintended consequences of incentivising researchers to generate benefits for society from their work. One civil servant told me “I’m fed up of being called up by researchers who want to have an impact on me when I’ve got a job to do”. I have witnessed researchers telling stakeholders how they plan to “use” them to advance their academic careers.
Researchers interviewed for some of the papers I’ve published have explained how they have adapted the research they do as a result of the impact agenda, prioritising more applied work and in some cases compromising research quality. In countries that reward institutions for their impact, intrinsic motivations for working with publics and stakeholders are increasingly being ‘crowded out’ by extrinsic motives, leading in some cases to game playing. At its best, game playing gives undue credit for impact. At its worst, game playing uses publics and stakeholders as pawns in games of personal and institutional competition for scarce funding and reputational rewards, undermining public trust in the academy. The political roots of the impact agenda continue to fuel suspicion that it is an extension of neoliberal political agendas to marketise the academy, only valuing research in narrow, instrumental terms as a return on public investment. Combined with the rise in managerialism in the academy, some feel imperatives to achieve impact are yet another threat to academic freedom.
I believe that all of these concerns are valid, and they fuel my desire to get this book into even more people’s hands. With this book, I want to appeal to people’s intrinsic motives, and present a vision for an impact agenda with the needs of people and society at its heart. The roots of the impact agenda are far deeper and more ancient than any neoliberal plot to hijack impact for political ends. We need a new breed of grass-roots leaders, who are passionate about making a difference for the right reasons, and who can inspire others to follow in their footsteps. Impact, ultimately, is about long-term, trusting, two-way relationships. Some of these relationships might lead to impacts, but others might not. The point is that researchers need to be in this for the long haul, rather than dropping partners as soon as the project is over, or as soon as it becomes apparent that it won’t help generate impacts we can report.
In this second edition of The Research Impact Handbook, I want to reconnect researchers with the concept at the heart of the impact agenda: empathy. If we don’t do this, wider society’s cynicism of research and researchers will only grow further. If we do, we have the opportunity to achieve change on an unprecedented scale. Put simply, research impact is the good that researchers can do in the world. What is the good you can do?
What's new in the second edition?
Much has changed since the first edition was published less than two years ago. First, the impact agenda has become significantly more prominent in the global research community, both in terms of directing research funding and assessing research excellence. The majority of national research funding organisations around the world now require researchers to make some sort of statement about the likely impact of the work they are seeking funding for. Australia now assesses research impact in its Engagement and Impact Assessment as part of Excellence in Research for Australia, and the European Commission is looking at how to evaluate impact more effectively in the successor to its Horizon 2020 funding programme. The forerunner to these schemes is the UK’s Research Excellence Framework, which included an assessment of the significance and reach of impacts for the first time in 2014. In the 2021 iteration of this exercise, 25% of scores (and hence funding) given to Higher Education Institutions will come from impact (the rest coming from research outputs and research environment).
Second, there is now a significantly richer evidence base upon which to draw, new tools are available and new best practices are emerging as the research community learns how to engage more effectively with stakeholders and publics. In this second edition, I have tried to integrate as much as possible of the latest and most important evidence, tools and experience that have become available:
I have added a new chapter defining impact in more detail, while keeping it as simple as possible, explaining how impact works and describing the different types of impact that are possible.
In Chapter 4, I have added a section on what to do if you think your research might make money, briefly covering the basics of intellectual property.
As the most important of the five principles underpinning my relational approach to impact, I have significantly expanded Chapter 6 which deals with the ‘engage’ principle.
In Chapters 4–8, I have explained how each principle can help you achieve meaningful and lasting impacts in more time-efficient ways.
Chapter 10 now includes a section on my best practice library of pathways to impact, and more detailed guidance on how to write the impact sections of a grant proposal (including common mistakes researchers make).
Chapter 14 has been revised to include more on prioritising publics as well as stakeholders, and introduces interest-benefit matrices in addition to the more traditional interest-influence matrices covered in the first edition.
As you might expect, much has changed in the digital world in the last couple of years, and so Chapter 17 has been extensively revised and updated to include more material on things you can do without having to engage with social media to drive impacts online. Chapter 18 on using Twitter and LinkedIn has also been updated.
I’ve added a new chapter on presenting with impact because how we deliver our message can significantly influence whether or not we influence our listeners and achieve impact. I received voice coaching a few years ago and wish I’d known what I learned many years earlier. The material in Chapter 19 will transform how you speak, so you can transform your listeners.
I’ve made a number of changes to Chapter 20, including adding a section explaining how my relational approach to evidence-informed policy better represents the reality of real-world policy processes than outmoded conceptions of evidence-based policy.
In Chapter 21, I have explained how I ‘stress-test’ policy briefs with people from opposing sides of a policy debate to identify weaknesses and fix them as part of my relational approach to writing policy briefs.
Chapter 22 on tracking, evaluating and evidencing impact has been completely rewritten and significantly expanded based on an extensive review I’ve undertaken of the latest literature on this topic (forthcoming in the peer-reviewed literature).
Lastly, in the final part of the book, I’ve created a new series of short ‘how to’ guides and worked examples covering:
Getting testimonials to corroborate the impact of your research
Writing up an impact evaluation as a research article
Evidencing international policy impacts
How to set up a stakeholder advisory panel for your research project
How to turn your next paper into an infographic
How to write a top-scoring impact case study for the UK Research Excellence Framework
How to crowdfund your next project
How to turn your research findings into a video that people actually want to watch
Publics/stakeholder analysis: worked example
Event facilitation: example plan
Get your copy
You can find out more about what's in the book on the Fast Track Impact website or you can order your copy direct from Amazon here. I'd love to hear what you think of it via a review on Amazon if you have time. Thanks for waiting patiently for today, and enjoy the new edition!