27 Aug 2014
By Kate Pruce.
Making your research go further: Considering impact
Research in the sector of international development is often well-suited to engaging with policy and practice, dealing as it does with questions about and potential solutions to real-world development challenges. There are also significant benefits to reaching a wider – including non-academic – audience in terms of contributing to current debates, and being in a position to offer policy-relevant recommendations in your field of expertise.
It is important to remember that impact is a process, not an event, which is not always recognised by tight deadlines and time-limited funding contracts. Results are often not immediate. Achieving impact requires long-term relationship-building (think 6-10 years), and ideally stakeholder engagement from the outset of the research. ESID’s project on India’s National Rural Employment Guarantee Act adopted this approach, and has successfully engaged key representatives from the Indian Planning Commission and National Advisory Council with the findings and implications of the research.
Searching for impact: the challenges
There are legitimate concerns about this close connection between research and policy which are important to keep in mind. Successful uptake by your target audience requires relationship-building, which could reduce the critical edge of the research. This creates a perceived tension between engagement and objectivity, and also between research and uptake/impact. For example, should current policy debates shape research topics? What if the findings are politically unpalatable? What if the research creates a negative impact?
It can also be difficult to package ‘simple’ policy messages from nuanced research findings and there is a danger that, by trying to make the research relevant, it becomes confined to “an ever-shrinking realm of political possibility.”[i]
Further arguments for and against the impact agenda are summarised in these two articles: five reasons to love impact and five reasons to be more sceptical about the influence of impact.
Communicating research for impact
When planning for uptake and impact, different products and communication methods will be required, depending on the audience. For example, briefing papers are a very useful way of presenting key findings and recommendations for policy makers. Blogging and tweeting are becoming increasingly popular as ways to promote research and reach new audiences. There’s even an academic paper that has been written on the impact of blogs!
This can be challenging for academics who are not used to these types of engagement, as explored in a previous ESID blog on academics, researchers and the dreaded policy brief, but can also provide exciting opportunities, particularly for early career researchers, who can get to grips with these new skills as part of their research training.
- Examples of ESID making a difference.
- Research impact in the School of Environment, Education and Development, including cases from the Brooks World Poverty Institute.
- The Economic and Social Research Council’s impact toolkit has tools and tips on maximising impact.
[i] O’Connor, A. (2001). Poverty Knowledge: Social Science, Social Policy, and the Poor in Twentieth Century US History. Princeton University Press, New Jersey: p. 6.