Impact Practitioners

Re-thinking impact: the role of context, voice, and power

By 14/03/2024

This 15-page academic paper 1 by Mark Reed and Hannah Rudman identifies three factors that may help increase the likelihood that research outcomes are perceived as beneficial by interested groups.

The nature of research impact is inherently subjective. As well as this, the ‘impact agenda’ can also encourage researchers to have a too-narrow focus on the demonstrable benefits. This all means that research often has unintended negative consequences. 

Reed and Rudman, drawing from an extensive literature review and their own experiences, identify three factors crucial for shaping engagement practices to yield positive impacts for interested groups.

The way that research and its impact are perceived are influenced by context, voice and power dynamics.To reflect this, knowledge systems should prioritise the diverse needs of groups –  especially those who have been historically underprivileged.

Firstly, context matters a lot. Understanding local processes and perspectives allows researchers to tailor their approaches and engage stakeholders from the outset, considering potential compromises. It’s about getting the community involved early and truly understanding how the impact may affect different interests.

Considering voice is also vital. Representing the interests of affected groups is key to achieving sustainable and desirable outcomes. To create truly beneficial impacts, we must actively consider and include the interests, values, and worldviews of these groups.

Lastly, there’s power. Acknowledging power means recognising that knowledge creation, dissemination, and utilisation are affected by power relations – these are often unequal. Recognising and addressing these dynamics in funding and research processes ensures that impacts are perceived as advantageous.

In summary, an impact process should incorporate context, voice, and power. This holistic approach maximises the likelihood of delivering positive benefits to all involved groups while minimising unintended negative consequences. It’s not just about research; it’s about creating change that truly matters.

This article is part of our initiative, R2A Impact Practitioners. To find out more, please click here.