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What is research impact?

Everybody in academia talks about impact, but what actually is it?

Research Excellence Framework (REF) defines impact 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.’

However impact is not just about the REF but about so much more. Generally speaking, impact is split in three different ways, namely academic impact, wider impact, and impact as it relates to the Impact Agenda.

The first one, wider impact, is the impact research has outside academia. For example, particular research may have encouraged a government to make changes to a policy, a museum or gallery might have used research ideas to underpin its displays, or research findings may have stimulated public debate or contributed to a change in culture.

The second, academic impact, is assessed in the output and environment elements of the REF. Namely, academic impact relates to the demonstrable contribution that research makes to advance theory, method, and application within an academic field (disciplinary) but also across it (interdisciplinary).

The third, the Impact Agenda, demonstrates clearly how impact is not just about the REF but about much more. Essentially, the agenda contains four different elements which are explained below.

  • Accountability: £1.5 billion pounds of tax-payers’ money goes towards research and innovation in Higher Education every year. This is a lot of money which is why researchers are accountable for demonstrating the benefits of that public investment to society. Furthermore, it is about making a case for that money in a challenging fiscal environment.
  • Quality: Research can be improved by engaging with a broad range of stakeholders which can lead to development of new knowledge.
  • Maximising benefits: Research and impact can shorten the time to benefits, expedite processes, and increase the impact of our investments.
  • Reputation: In light of Brexit and other international challenges, it is ever so important to ensure that the U.K. is able to continue collaborating globally to maintain its research excellence. Impact has the ability to enhance the U.K.’s attractiveness for research and innovation investment, and it can help maintain a long-term vision, ambition, and global endeavour of research. This is also at the heart of the Brunel 2030 vision.