Impact, impact, impact. Between the REF and the Research Councils, UK researchers can’t move without bumping into someone asking them about the impact of their work. And there are a lot of people still struggling to get their heads around it.
However, I have been cheered over the last few weeks by the efforts of academics from a range of disciplines who are trying very hard to push their research findings out to a wider audience, to people and organisations – locally, nationally and internationally – that may actually find it of use, or may be inspired by it. I am working on a project for RCUK to create a resource of case studies providing examples of a wide variety of pathways to impact taken by researchers from every council. (Well, I say every Council, but for some reason MRC have found the whole thing a little challenging, but that’s another blog post.)
I have run workshops on pathways to impact and I do get some fairly glum looking researchers attending. They are negative about impact or just a look bit bewildered by the whole thing, like it’s some mean trick on the part of the Research Councils and those awful people at HEFCE to make their lives miserable. How to get them to understand that it really isn’t all that bad and they might even benefit from it? (Yeah, yeah, I know. I am not even an academic, I don’t even have a Phd so how could I possibly understand your suffering? Really, just stop and listen to how whiney you sound…).
Well, I am hoping that the many (over 50) examples of academics from all research stages talking about why they are motivated to have an impact with their research, how they have gone about it, how they have written a successful pathway to impact application, will help. I have been buoyed by the variety of ways that researchers are approaching impact and interpreting what it means for their discipline or their specific project.
I have been particularly expressed by the people doing research which seems to have no obvious or immediate application such as the particle astro particle physicist, Paula Chadwick at Durhamn, or marine biologists, Jon Copley, down in Southampton. They are hugely inspirational about public engagement and why it is important for them as researchers. Researchers putting themselves out of their comfort zones to present at industry conferences and seminars but finding the experience enjoyable and informative, and, hey presto, it leads to other opportunities even more grants. I have spoken with researchers like Mark Reed at Aberdeen who truly, passionately believes in stakeholder-led research and has the results to prove that it works (http://www.ouruplands.co.uk/).
And the most often repeated comment I hear from the researchers I have spoken with in the last month is: “I am being paid to this from the public purse so I have an obligation to ensure that my research has a wider benefit.” Wow. That they think that way is impressive.
Perhaps I am being spun a yarn and they are just repeating what they think I want to hear. I know I am a glass half full kind of person, but I don’t think so. To devote yourself to research you have to have a desire to discover and the foundation of that desire is, I believe, the desire to want ‘do something’, to achieve something lasting, to make a difference whatever your subject.
I have loved this project and feel privileged to have had the opportunity to talk to so many bright people doing amazing things on our behalf. Keep an eye out when the case studies start appearing on the RCUK website in early May 2012. I still have another 17 to write up!