Impact Practitioners

Ten guidelines for an effective research impact assessment

By 18/04/2024

This 16-page statement, by the International School on Research Impact Assessment (ISRIA), proposes ten initial guidelines to make your research impact assessment process (RIA) as effective as possible. It brings together the insights of over 450 experts and practitioners, from 34 countries, who participated in the ISRIA. The guidelines proposed are helpful for practitioners who want to improve the RIA process and make it more standardised by putting these recommendations into practice. 

The ISRIA is a community of experts and practitioners that was founded to help address ongoing challenges in RIA. RIA delves into the research process in order to maximise its societal and economic impacts. Think of it as a tool for making informed decisions, demonstrating accountability to research funders, and efficiently allocating research resources. 

The statement proposes the following ten-point initial guidelines on how to more effectively design and conduct RIA:

  • Analyse your context. Start by understanding the internal research environment. This is crucial for benchmarking and identifying strengths and weaknesses of the research environment you are working in. 
  • Reflect continuously on your purposes. Keep your assessment questions and methodology in tune with the goals of RIA, which encompass advocacy, accountability, analysis, and allocation.
  • Identify stakeholders and their needs. Prioritise stakeholder interests, develop engagement strategies, and define RIA requirements. This ensures that RIA genuinely influences practice.
  • Engage with key stakeholders early on. Early engagement is key to the social ‘robustness’ of RIA, and its effective translation into practice. Developing interpersonal engagement skills and cultural competence is equally important.
  • Choose conceptual frameworks critically. Conceptual frameworks are incredibly useful in RIA as they can help address methodological challenges, such as attribution of impact, time-lag, and determining what could have happened under different conditions (the counterfactual). 
  • Use mixed methods and multi-data sources. To truly understand research impact from various stakeholder perspectives, it’s essential to combine different methods and data sources, because it enhances the credibility of your assessment.
  • Select indicators and metrics responsibly. Indicators provide signals of impact, but otherwise are not a source of comprehensive assessment. Make use of expert-recommended indicators, and use them responsibly relative to the context.
  • Anticipate and address ethical issues and conflicts of interest. Uphold the social value of RIA by being mindful of ethical considerations and potential conflicts of interest. Bear in mind that different organisations will have different ethical regulations, which may affect the objectivity of RIA.
  • Communicate results through multiple channels. In order to effectively translate RIA results into practice, your communication strategy must reflect the needs of different stakeholders.
  • Share your learning with the RIA community. In order to grow the evidence base of RIA, scholars and practitioners should actively contribute their knowledge to the broader RIA community of practice.

Overall, these guidelines offer a roadmap for practitioners to enhance the RIA process, ultimately helping research to have a more significant impact.

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