This 40-page toolkit produced by the Overseas Development Institute introduces a simple step-by-step guide to help you better understand and monitor research impact. The toolkit was originally developed to aid researchers in addressing the impact requirements of the UK’s Research Excellence Framework (REF).
The toolkit is split into six chapters, starting with an explanation of what is considered to be ‘impact’ and ‘impactful’. The manual encourages you to think about what impact means to you and what factors might influence it.
In the second chapter, you learn everything about impact objectives, which help you be clear about the change you would like to see. Having specific objectives will be useful for developing a communications strategy and gathering impact evidence. In general, a good objective is clear about why the changes are important; who they will affect; what needs to be done; and where your research stands in relation to the work of others.
The third module focuses on stakeholder mapping using the Alignment, Interest and Influence Matrix. The matrix will show you how well various stakeholders align with your research, the degree of interest they have in the issue and the amount of power and influence they have. It helps you see which stakeholders you should prioritise to achieve your impact objective.
The next module is all about the development of a Theory of Change
(ToC). A ToC helps you understand how the desired change can come about and what might happen along the way.
The fifth chapter tackles communication strategies for your research. You need to know who you want to reach and how you would like to reach them. In other words, think about the channels and tools you can use to spread relevant messages to your audiences. Ideally, your messages should be simple, concrete, credible, emotional and with elements of surprise and storytelling. Think about engagement, not just the dissemination of information.
The final module guides you through monitoring and learning from your research and gives you tips for writing your own impact case study. Monitoring enables you to provide evidence of impact, learn from your work to improve what you’re already doing and has an element of accountability as you will be able to demonstrate to stakeholders that your research is valuable. You should start monitoring early on so that you are learning whether and how you are making progress as you carry out your research; improve your work ‘in real time’ to have more impact; and can tell a story about what difference you made at the end of the project.
To sum up, the REF toolkit provides you with the basis for understanding the impact of your research. It gives practical advice across six chapters, with some modules providing exercises for you to further develop and plan your monitoring activities.
This article is part of our initiative, R2A Impact Practitioners. To find out more, please click here.