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How to design an end-of-project stakeholder meeting to both generate and evaluate impact

Research projects often end with workshops or conferences for stakeholders in which researchers treat their audiences to death by PowerPoint, hoping that their research findings will subsequently be used by their audiences. Such events may tick a box labelled “dissemination”, but they are rarely effective pathways to real and lasting impact.

Here is an alternative that is more likely to engage your audience and lead to evidencable impacts:

  1. Before the meeting: consider if you want to send any materials to participants in advance of the meeting. This may include for example, plain language briefing notes about the research for those who want to prepare for the meeting, or a pre-meeting survey to understand key concerns, needs or perceptions, which can be presented at the meeting and built upon in the activities that follow

  2. At the meeting: at minimum, run an action planning session at the very end, where you invite participants to identify actions that have arisen during the meeting, and you write these at the front and discuss as a group who will commit to lead on each action and by when

  3. Ideally, take this a step further and get participants to identify impact actions as part of the meeting: a) Give everyone a fixed number of post-it notes and ask them, to answer an impact-oriented question, like “what would you like to see change as a result of today”, “what actions are you taking home with you from today”, or “what will you do differently as a result of today”? b) Writing one answer per post-it, ask people to take their answers to the front of the room and place them on a flip-chart-papered wall, clustering similar answers together (you can help with the clustering and if you have a large group, have more than one person reading answers as they go up and clustering) c) With one of your team members, take it in turn to describe a cluster, reading one or two illustrative examples, circling and naming each cluster, till all are circled and named d) Give everyone a fixed number of sticky dots and ask them during a break to prioritise the impacts they think are most important to discuss, placing more dots on more important impacts e) Identify top-ranked impacts based on sticky dots and divide the group into small groups to discuss the top-ranked impacts f) Facilitate discussion, for example via two 30 minute round-table discussions with a facilitator and note-taker, giving people the opportunity to choose a second table if they wish after 30 minutes. Get facilitators to provide a 1 minute summary at the end of the session. Alternatively, put move the clusters of impact post-its to flip-chart stations around the room and rotate small groups around the stations, giving a reducing amount of time per station each rotation. Get each group to carry their own coloured pen with them and at the end tell the group to revisit the station they started at to see what was added by other groups in different colours. Discussion can be structured or unstructured. If you want to structure it, consider prompts like: outline of the idea or action; who would need to be involved and any resources needed; how you would make it happen; why it is important (specific benefits that would arise if you succeeded) g) Whichever technique you use, finish with an opportunity to join working groups to follow-up the ideas discussed for each impact. This can be done via sheets of paper put on each table or station with space for names and emails, making it clear how you will store and use their contact details. If using the roundtable technique you can ask each group to identify an academic and non-academic lead to take responsibility for the follow-up, but in both cases you will need to assign someone from your team to check that the working group is following-up the work.

  4. After the meeting: give the groups a clear deadline and then compile working group reports into an overall workshop report for all participants. Follow and support each group as far as you are able, to facilitate them to achieve impacts. Some groups will succeed while others will fail. Some will be based on your research and some will be based on other inputs. You have the ability to follow-up and evaluate over the long-term with group members who benefited and how, so you can evidence your impact.

This plan gives you an opportunity to translate the enthusiasm and creativity that is often in abundance at the end of a project into concrete actions. You are also able to follow these up, increasing the likelihood that you achieve impacts, and GDPR compliant you are able to contact people in the long-term to evaluate the benefits.

About the author

Mark is a recognized international expert in research impact with >150 publications that have been cited over 14,000 times. He holds a Research England and N8 funded Chair in Socio-Technical Innovation at Newcastle University, and has won awards for the impact of his research. His work has been funded by ESRC, STFC, NERC, AHRC and BBSRC, and he regularly collaborates and publishes with scholars ranging from the arts and humanities to physical sciences. He has reviewed research and sat on funding panels for the UK Research Councils (including MRC, BBSRC, ESRC, NERC), EU Horizon 2020 and many national and international research funders. He has been commissioned to write reports and talk to international policy conferences by the United Nations, has acted as a science advisor to the BBC, and is research lead for an international charity. ​​​

Mark regularly advises research funders, helping write funding calls, evaluating the impact of funding programmes and training their staff (his interdisciplinary approach to impact has been featured by the UKRI, the largest UK research funder, as an example of good practice). He also regularly advises on impact to policy makers (e.g. evaluating the impact of research funded by Scottish Government and Forest Research), research projects (e.g. via the advisory panel for the EU Horizon 2020 SciShops project) and agencies (e.g. Australian Research Data Common).

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