Get specific about the impacts you will seek and the people who can help you achieve impact this month
Your task in this step is to come up with one thing you can do this month that will take you closer to achieving impact. In parallel with this, and to help you actually do this one thing, you will identify key individuals who can help you achieve the impacts you want to see.
Now you have cut back anything that might be hindering or distracting you from your impact (Step 3), you can revisit your impact plan (Step 2) and start to get specific about the impact and activities you want to prioritise for action this month.
Get some back-up
If you want to increase the chances of maintaining your new-found commitment to achieving impact from your research, you might want to get some backup. Social norms are powerful, and no matter how impervious we may perceive we are to the opinions of others, we become subtly influenced. Social learning theory suggests that all learning takes place in a social context and is mediated through our interaction with others. Even someone sitting alone, learning from a book, will interpret the words on the page within the cultural frame of reference they have been brought up in. We take advice from those we know and trust to inform or confirm the decisions we make. In the same way that a drug addict or alcoholic needs to get away from their old friends who still take drugs or drink if they want to stay clean, we need to surround ourselves with people who will help us make and stick to decisions that will enable us to reach our most important goals. Sometimes just one person can be the bridge to a whole new community of people who can help you achieve what you need.
Partly, this is about having access to a source of support and inspiration when achieving your goals requires sacrifice and you might otherwise give up. Partly, it is about accountability. By discussing your goals with someone important to you, in a way that articulates their deeper significance clearly, you are able to create a level of accountability that will give you greater staying power than you might otherwise have during wobbly moments. Some people tell the world via social media, some tell significant others, and some simply write their goals down.
Although the sample size was small (149 participants), research completed by Gail Mathews (Dominican University, California) in 2015 suggested that those who wrote down their goals and shared them with a friend were up to 33% more likely to say they had reached them or were at least halfway there after four weeks than those who did not write down their goals. Whether or not these precise figures are robust, they illustrate the idea that being accountable for your goals can increase the likelihood of reaching them.
Who can you discuss your impact plans with? Ask them if you can check in with them again after a few months, to see how things are progressing. Maybe you can do the same for them, and you can help each other become more accountable in the pursuit of your goals?
Who will you reach out to?
You could reach out to other researchers, or you could reach out to knowledge brokers from the third sector, industry or elsewhere. They may already be achieving some of the sorts of impacts that you would like to be able to achieve yourself.
What they will have in common is that they are a few steps ahead of you on their pathways to impact. They may be ahead of you in terms of their experience generating impacts generally, or specifically generating a particular type of impact or using a particular technique, technology or activity that you would like to be able to use yourself.
It is surprising how open many people are to being contacted by someone who wants to learn from them. Done in a spirit of humility, most people will respond positively and be willing to mentor you in some shape or form. Even as a PhD student, I reached out to key authors in my field to co-author papers as part of my PhD, and got incredible mentoring from these researchers in addition to the inputs of my PhD supervisor (and ended up publishing 12 papers out of my PhD, six of which have been cited over 100 times). So don’t be shy!
Create your influence network
In a moment, I'm going to ask you to identify 5 people who are a few steps ahead of you on their pathway to impact, who might be able to mentor you. Next, I'd like you to identify 5 more people. This time, rather than looking for mentors, I'd like you to look for influential stakeholders who might have the power to enable you to have significant impact. They may have knowledge and contacts that could significantly help you to achieve your goals. They might have resources at their disposal that they want to use to achieve similar goals to yours. They might have significant followings on social media that could enable you to get your message across to a wide audience. They might have access to data, hard-to-reach groups or sites that you need to complete your research. You might already have identified some of these people in your stakeholder analysis in Step 2 (it is worth going back and looking at the groups you identified as being particularly influential). These people are worth their weight in gold, so it is worth spending time discussing with colleagues and trying your best to identify these individuals, so you can begin to connect with and draw upon their influence to help you achieve your impacts.
Tasks for this step
Identify one impact you could work on this month. This could be your most important impact, identified in Step 2, the goal you identified in Step 1 that you could do in the next six months, or it could be another impact, but ideally it should link in some way to your most important impact. Then identify a specific activity that will help you achieve that impact (even if it is only the first of many steps you will have to take to reach the impact).
Make a list of 5 people who you feel are ahead of you in achieving impact or working with the end users of research – these people will probably be other academics, but they may be knowledge brokers from the third sector, industry or elsewhere.
Make a list of 5 stakeholders from Step 2 who are likely to be particularly influential in enabling you to complete your research successfully and make an impact.
Make a commitment to reach out to at least one person from each list this month to try and establish a working relationship that can help you achieve impacts from your research. Prioritise those who might be able to help with the one thing you’ve decided.
Good luck with your tasks this week. Don't be shy, and don't be put off by the odd negative response - you will be surprised at the number of people who are happy to help you. I'll see you back here again next week for the last step!
Have fun till then
Read about the principles that underpin this step and find tools you can use to achieve more impact in The Research Impact Handbook. 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 pages for free Research Impact Guides, templates, examples of good practice, my podcast, magazine and good practice library of pathways to impact from grant applications.