Research Impact

© Natasha Hirst
© Natasha Hirst

The importance of research impact

It quickly becomes apparent when talking to the academics involved in this project that the impact of research is of crucial importance.

For the work of academics to be meaningful in a wider sense, one needs to try to track how research makes a real difference in influencing policy and practice in the world that exists outside of Universities and other research institutions. This is something that policy think tanks are more adept at illustrating but it is a newer feature for Higher Education Institutions.

Research Excellence Framework

The introduction of the Research Excellence Framework (REF) in 2014 created a requirement for the impact of research to be evidenced:

For the purposes of the REF, impact is defined 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.

Researchers need to look beyond citations of their work in academic literature and find case studies and examples of where their research has been used to create change.  It is a task that is easier said than done.  Throughout the course of interviewing and researching to create content for this website, the holy grail of research impact has been remarkably elusive.

Where examples arise, the potential of research to transform thinking, policies and practice is immense but how do academics go about finding these examples and encouraging those who utilise their research to feed back?

Key themes

In this project a wide range of people have been interviewed who consume research within the course of their roles. This varies from policy and research officers in third sector organisations, to medical professionals and those who are tasked with providing professional training or representation and support for disabled people in the workplace.

Research is found and used in different ways and key themes emerged from discussions with those who use research:

 

1. Finding the research in the first place:
If only published in academic journals and textbooks without an effective strategy for communicating research to a lay audience, opportunities are missed to engage those who are well placed to put research findings into practice.

2. Salient points of research need to be accessible to a lay audience:
Research needs to be communicated to those who may not have an academic or theoretical understanding of issues.  However, they may work with these issues in a practical sense on a day to day basis. Effective communication of research enables findings to be applied in a practical way.

3. Networking between those who use research and the academics who produce it:
A key aim of the CURE/D website is the creation of a network and a conference that allows information exchange and feedback to take place in a way that is useful and relevant for academics and practitioners. Effective networking will help to direct research in a way that is grounded in it’s potential use.  This also allows for research impact to be tracked.

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