‘Impact Full’ – The Joint AHRC/ ESRC DTP Impact Event

Naomi Adam, AHRC NWCDTP, Linguistics, University of Liverpool

This full-packed, four-hour interactive webinar on research impact provided participants with inspiration aplenty…

As part of the inaugural five-day ‘NWSSDTP Week’ running from 23 to 27 November 2020, postgraduate researchers from both the AHRC and ESRC cohorts were offered the opportunity to attend a dedicated DTP ‘Impact Event.’ Harnessing the power of Zoom, proceedings took place entirely online, as over the course of a full-packed, four-hour interactive programme participants considered the concept of research impact, and exactly how it could be incorporated into their own future project plans. The collaborative enterprise, hosted by NWSSDTP staff at the University of Liverpool, featured contributions from students and career researchers from across the North West consortium’s institutions.

‘Impact.’ Incontrovertibly, a very common word. But, within academia, what exactly does it mean? Economist Alfred Marshall once said:

‘In common use almost every word has many shades of meaning, and therefore needs to be interpreted by the context.’

To this end, the session proper began with a definition of ‘Impact’, as endorsed by the Research Excellence Framework (REF) and UKRI. Impact can be defined as the output of research resulting in ‘an effect on, change or benefit to […] society and culture’ (REF, 2021), be this on a local, national, or international level. Crucially, the focus is on deploying what is often viewed as esoteric knowledge outside the halls of academe, utilising and applying findings in real-world contexts. Impact activities can include, for example:

  • Articles for newspapers and/or magazines;
  • Blog posts and podcasts;
  • Collaborative outreach work with educational facilities and/or youth groups.

These suggestions are far from the only ways in which research may be made impactful, though (indeed, it’s only the beginning of the alphabet!). One researcher, speaking during a later Q&A-style panel entitled ‘Undertaking an Internship during the Ph.D.’ wisely advised: ‘Go for it! Do not constrain yourselves.’ The benefits of bespoke impact/outreach activities, tailored to the individual researcher, were subsequently underscored. The overall message from the faces outlined in green squares? Blue-sky thinking!

Go for it! Do not constrain yourselves.

‘Impact’ is also known variously as public engagement, dissemination and knowledge exchange. This latter captures well its reciprocal qualities, as communicating research findings can mutually benefit external partners and the researchers themselves, something this event was keen to stress. Proof that impact activity can provide ever new perspectives on a research project came during the ‘What is Impact?: Case Studies’ component of the workshop, attested to by a researcher in the field of Resilience Studies. She spoke of how her recent impact outreach work has rejuvenated her passion for a field she has worked in for thirty years.

Additionally, attendees were provided with impact-focused case studies from researchers at various points in their careers. PGRs, ECRs and post-docs all contributed to a ‘Speed Date’-style session, briefly outlining their research and its concomitant impact. Topics ran the gamut from present-day Merseyside English and its role in the National Curriculum, to post-war Brazilian cinema and the potential for the industry to stimulate interaction among the elderly. This illustrated to maximal effect both the diverse scope of the research conducted within the North West consortium, as well as the many arenas in which it can prove impactful.

In the afternoon sessions, theory was put into practice, with groups allocated to ‘Breakout Rooms’ to identify opportunities for impact for a range of fictive research projects. ‘Feel free to be inventive!’, the accompanying worksheet exhorted, and this gauntlet was certainly taken up by participants. Projects on initially specialist-seeming subjects like the Brontes or the ballet industry were found to have relevance to, among other sectors, the heritage industry, governmental policy, and NGOs.

Following the ‘Impact Event’, all attending researchers were provided with a range of ‘take-home’ activities, aimed at encouraging the identification of possible impact activities and audiences. Questions to consider included:

  • Who is/are the potential audience(s) for this research?
  • What actual changes or effects might the research bring about?
  • How can this proposed impact be encouraged, facilitated, and/or kickstarted?

Food for thought for all…

~ Naomi Adam. (@naomibibliomi.)

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