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How to pass ARC's National Interest Test

Brevity is the name of the game when writing about impact for Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Projects and Discovery Early Career Researcher Awards (DECRAs). Although impact is mentioned in a number of places in the application form (e.g. the impact of career breaks on your academic record and academic impact of research), the place where you have to write about non-academic impacts is the 1125 character (approx. 150 word) National Interest Test.

Identify three things

Given that you’ve only got 150 words, let’s keep this simple. There are just three things you need to identify:

  1. Impact goals: identify economic, commercial, environmental, social or cultural benefits to the Australian community and explain why they are important

  2. Beneficiaries: identify groups who will appreciate the benefits articulated in your impact goals

  3. Activities: come up with engagement activities that will enable you to deliver the proposed impacts to the relevant beneficiary groups

Be systematic

Once you’ve identified all three, the next step is to systematically map them against each other:

  • Is there a beneficiary group who will benefit from all your impact goals? If not, then you either have a spurious impact goal or you need to identify an additional beneficiary

  • Is there at least one impact goal that each of your beneficiaries care about? If not, you either have a spurious beneficiary group or you need to identify an additional impact goal

  • Do you have at least one activity that could deliver each impact goal? If not, you need additional activities or you have an unachievable impact goal that you might want to drop

  • Do you have at least one activity that would reach each beneficiary group? If not, you’ll need to think of additional activities that would be relevant to the hardest-to-reach groups

Be concise

The final step is to cut your text down to size. Although you will have more text than you have room for in the form, you have everything you need to write a compelling piece of text that will pass the National Interest Test with flying colours:

  1. Paragraph 1: list your impact goals (you may wish to bullet these to make them easy to read) and explain why they are important (e.g. via a brief problem statement)

  2. Paragraph 2: list the key groups within Australia who will benefit from the achievement of your impact goals (you may wish to add an example of a specific organisation or advisory panel member to illustrate each category of beneficiary you list if you have space). If your research is international you can list non-Australian beneficiaries as well, but remember that this is an Australian National Interest Test, so you should focus on national groups here

  3. Paragraph 3: List some of the key activities you identified to ensure your beneficiaries get the benefits you’ve proposed above – this will make your claims to delivering benefits in the national interest significantly more credible (and hence competitive)

The more specific you are in your articulation of impacts, beneficiaries and activities, the more believable your impact statement will be. Anyone can say they will work with the Government of New Zealand or Woolworths, but a reviewer is more likely to believe you if you say the policy team you will work with in a particular department around a specific policy agenda, or say you’ll be working with the named Head of Sustainability for Woolworths. By thinking through the three key points above in detail (impacts, beneficiaries and activities), you are able to write something more believable and competitive than would otherwise be possible.

You can see more about my approach to writing impact statements in this vlog:

Example National Interest Test

Here is an example National Interest Test based on a project I’m currently leading, to show you that it is possible to do what I’ve suggested above in under 1125 characters. In the example below, I've created an overarching impact goal in the first sentence with an accompanying problem statement, which I've then unpacked by explaining how each of the beneficiary groups (second sentence) will be impacted. Then in the third paragraph I've explained how this will be done. Anyone can make bold claims of proposed impact, but if you can make specific and targeted claims, and explain how you'll deliver them, you are much more likely to be believed. In this example, I've demonstrated why my project is of UK National Interest, as it is based in the UK. Follow the steps above and see what you can come up with for your ARC proposal.

Find out more

Download my hypothetical ARC National Interest Test based on my own research in the UK. Download a slideshow summary of this guide and check out The Research Impact Handbook for more on how to generate impact once you get your funding.

About the author

Mark is a recognized international expert in research impact with >150 publications that have been cited over 15,000 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. He regularly reviews research proposals and is a member or chair of funding panels for the UK Research Councils, EU Horizon 2020 and other 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 policymakers (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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