Step 5: Achieve your first step towards impact and monitor your success
Well done for reaching the last of our five steps! If you have done the tasks at the end of each of the preceding steps, then you have already invested wisely in yourself and are a huge step closer to being able to generate significant and far-reaching impacts from your research. You now have a much clearer idea of the impacts you want to achieve and why you want to achieve them. You’ve got a clear plan that can get you from where you are now, to the impacts you want to see in future. You’ve cut back on the things that have been cluttering, confusing and holding you back, to make more time for yourself, and more time to generate impact. And you’ve identified a network of people who can help you reach your goals.
During the last step, you identified one thing you could work on this month, which could take you closer to achieving impact. During this step, you will actually start work on do this. It is important that you actually do something tangible as part of this step. You’ve done a lot of thinking, discussing and planning so far, but little real action. Now is the time to put everything you have learned into action.
Put theory into practice
In the last step, you identified one thing you could work on this month. If it isn’t particularly tangible, then your first task is to find a way to make it more tangible. Is there a way you could involve others to do this with you, for example in a workshop setting with stakeholders? Is there some sort of physical artefact that you could produce, linked to the thing you’ve decided to work on, like a policy brief, a film or an educational resource?
Next, go back to your impact plan in Step 2, and think as deeply as you can about the activities you will do, how they link to your impact, how you can adapt your activities to the needs of different stakeholders, and the risks that might be associated with those activities. If you haven’t already, get some feedback from colleagues about what you are planning to do, to see if they can spot any flaws or limitations in your plan.
Next go to the people you reached out to in Step 4 – they should already be waiting for your email or call, if you set this up right when you contacted them. Although it might feel uncomfortable at first, your task is to ask them for help. Ask for something very specific, that you think they should in theory be able to give you. If you don’t ask, you will never know if they would have been happy to help you, and more often than not, people actually want to help.
Finally, just go out and do it – whatever the thing is that you decided to do, and make sure you do it within 4 weeks, so that you can maintain momentum.
Embrace failure to learn
There is one last thing you need to consider though. It probably feels great that you are actually out there, doing something tangible to generate impact. But how do you know that what you have done has actually affected change, and helped you get closer to your impact? In the impact plan in Step 2, there’s a column where you have to identify indicators or targets. Make sure that you design whatever it is that you do this month, so that there is some way of collecting information about whether or not it is working. If it didn’t work as well as you wanted, do something else next month. Those who succeed most in life are often those who are prepared to experience failure again and again, and it is for this very reason that they learn how to succeed.
It is important not to judge yourself against the number or quality of impacts you achieve, because impacts can take a long time to materialize, and an apparent lack of progress can be demotivating and cause you to stall or keep changing track needlessly. Rather judge yourself against your impact plan, and the activities you are doing to take you on your pathway to impact.
Focus on the small steps that take you closer to impact every day
Make it your goal to take small steps every day that you believe will contribute to your impact. At the heart of this course is a relational philosophy of impact, which focuses on building empathic, trusting and respectful relationships. Make a mental note of all the small things you did each day that were consistent with applying this philosophy, whether or not it is obvious how it helped you get closer to impact.
Focus on repeating value-orientated behaviors again and again, and trust that these will take you where you need to go. This doesn't mean you don't monitor and correct your course - but rather than focusing on whether you've reached the top of the mountain yet, celebrate that you took a few more steps that were in the right direction that day.
Finally, if you have evidence that your activities are working, or even better, that you are actually achieving impacts, then shout about it! Celebrate and share your success with others who are on a similar journey to you, so they can be inspired and learn from you.
I've already explained (in Step 2) how you can integrate monitoring into your impact plan using my impact planning template. If you want more detailed information on how to track, evaluate and evidence impacts, you can read Chapter 22 from the second edition of The Research Impact Handbook here.
Tasks for this step
Start working on the impact you identified in the previous step – make it tangible and actually do something. Now is not the time for planning or talking about it. Now is the time to actually put your impact plan into action.
Reach out to the people you connected with in the previous step and ask them to help you with achieve this impact with you this month
Make sure you collect information that can tell you whether or not your activities are actually taking you closer to impact
And if you have been working through these steps as a group with others, consider how you can continue meeting together, whether face-to-face or online. For this to work effectively, it is useful for each meeting to have a specific focus. A great starting point is to schedule a meeting a month from now and find out what activities everyone did to achieve impact – you will be inspired and motivated, whether or not you managed to achieve everything you wanted to do that month.
Well done for reaching the end of the course! Thank you for taking the time to work through this all with me. If you have found this course useful, I'd be really grateful if you are able to let others know about it - here's the link to the launch page for the course that you can share.
I'll be in touch with you periodically via email when there are new resources and other updates that I think you'd be interested (make sure you hit "unsubscribe" at the bottom of one of my emails if you dont want to receive these). Otherwise, I'll look forward to continuing the conversation via Twitter @profmarkreed and @fasttrackimpact.
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