Getting to Grips With... RESEARCH IMPACT

Research Impact.  It’s one of those abstract and slightly vague terms which is thrown around a great deal by universities through great concern for the Research Excellence Framework (REF). It’s also a term which filled me with panic and dread for two reasons.  Firstly, I had no clear idea of exactly what ‘research impact’ entailed.  Secondly, probably due to no. 1, I had absolutely no idea of how to go about doing/achieving/demonstrating this highly coveted ‘research impact’.  Fortunately, the nature of the AHRC’s North West Consortium Doctoral Training Partnership means that plenty of talks, events, and workshops are put on in the name of ‘doctoral training’, thus helping to inform ‘impact-phobic’ students such as myself.  This day workshop, held in the beautiful and awe-inspiring John Rylands Library in Manchester, provided accessible and useful insights into achieving impact and engagement in the Arts and Humanities.

Stunning surroundings to get the creative academic juices flowing!
As a Classicist working on a less-than-mainstream text (I’m really sad about the public’s lack of love for Lucan, but that is a topic for another post!), it’s been hard for me to imagine just how I could ensure that my current and future work could have any ‘impact’ at all. It was therefore incredibly comforting and reassuring to see how so many other academics had succeeded not only in sharing their research with wider communities, but also how they had been able to translate these activities into that all-important impact.

The first order of business for the day was to hash out clear definitions of Impact and Engagement, sweeping away some of the fogginess which had surrounded both terms in my mind for quite some time.

-Research Impact is defined by HEFCE as ‘an effect on, change or benefit to the economy, society, culture, public policy or services, health, the environment or quality of life, beyond academia’.  This definition was clarified further by our workshop leaders, who emphasized the need for impact work to be directly related to and/or based on your own research, and stressed that talks DO NOT equal research impact.

-Public Engagement, by contrast need not be based solely upon your own research, and aims to make projects more widely used/known by working with schools, cultural institutions, charities, communities, and the media.

Once we’d all gotten to grips with the basic aims and purposes of Impact and Engagement, we were treated to a number of case studies and round table discussions from academics, non HEI cultural institutions, REF officers, and the Arts & Humanities Research council, each offering insights into their own REF case studies and outreach and engagement activities.  I found these case studies to be incredibly helpful to help develop and consolidate my understanding of Impact, Engagement, and REF-seeing researcher practice in motion, rather than just being outlined in broad theoretical terms allowed me to get a much better idea of just how Impact can be achieved in the Arts and Humanities.  I especially enjoyed learning about how academics from across the AHRC NWCDTP have used REF impact case studies to secure funding for interdisciplinary projects which advance methodologies, and how institutions such as the British Library have been able to engage members of the public in their current digitisation projects, offering people the chance to help decipher manuscripts and documents using online crowdsourcing platforms. 

Order of business for the day

Key things taken from the workshop:

-Firstly, I was glad to have a clearer idea of just what Impact and Engagement entailed, the key differences between each term, and the importance of trying to make headway in both areas as a PGR/ECR.

-Secondly, I was relieved to learn that in the world of Research Impact, size doesn’t matter! When it comes to Impact case studies, you can think big but also start small, meaning that you can start thinking about how you can evidence your Research Impact as a lowly PGR student.

-Thirdly, that public engagement can come in any form at all-the possibilities really are endless.  With the rise of the internet, blogging, and social media platforms, there are now more ways than ever to disseminate, discuss, and share your projects and ideas-you just need to find a way to channel your work.  


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