This 10-page working paper by the Impact Initiative looks at the impacts achieved by the Raising Learning Outcomes in Education Systems Research Programme (RLO). Apart from describing the different types of impact and how they were achieved, it also gives readers specific examples from real research projects around the world. It is therefore a great resource for both researchers and funders that can inform discussion and learning around impact pathways in research for development and show you that all impacts count.
The working paper highlights that there isn’t one impact pathway or magic formula you have to follow to achieve research impact. The examples demonstrate that researchers use multiple strategies and engage with a range of stakeholders to build capacities, strengthen relationships, shift perceptions and influence policy and practice. You need to stay proactive when planning for research impact and also be ready to respond to evolving contexts and rising opportunities.
The authors take the wheel of impact as its starting point to identify and classify the impacts across the RLO portfolio into four categories: instrumental (impacts on policy and practice), conceptual (raised awareness, contributions to knowledge, changed ways of thinking), capacity building and networks and activity. The paper then unpacks these categories to identify various outcome areas, give examples of impacts and describe pathways leading to them.
It first looks at the capacity building impacts, e.g. developing the skills of researchers, stakeholders and audiences. Then the authors highlight the importance of developing networks, partnerships and connections between researchers and various stakeholders and providing spaces for engagement and discussions. The next chapter on conceptual impacts shows that it is sometimes possible to see an impact pathway leading from building relationships and networks to influencing stakeholders’ narrative, discourse and understanding of an issue. The last chapter focuses on the instrumental impacts and demonstrates how research evidence influences policy or practice.
However, the authors also stress that the attribution or contribution of a specific piece of research to instrumental impact is likely to be difficult to measure or may not be possible to prove. There are many external factors in play while influencing policy, and they are often outside the control of the research project. That’s why it is important to value other types of impacts too. Sometimes multiple smaller ‘micro-impacts’ might lead to a more significant influence overall.
In summary, the working paper highlights the non-linear nature of impacts and shows that achieving instrumental and conceptual impacts is often dependent on capacity and relationship building. It is a useful overview of different types of research impact and the strategies we could use to achieve them.
This article is part of our initiative, R2A Impact Practitioners. To find out more, please click here.