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December 20th, 2019

2019 In Review: Practising research impact

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Estimated reading time: 5 minutes


December 20th, 2019

2019 In Review: Practising research impact

0 comments | 2 shares

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

The ways in research shapes and influences the wider world are a key focus of the LSE Impact Blog. This post brings together some of the top posts on the subject of research impact that featured on the Impact Blog in 2019.

Invisible impact and insecure academics: structural barriers to engagement and why we should do it anyway

Participatory Action Research (PAR) is a form of research that involves prolonged and deep engagement with local communities and can produce profound social impacts. In this post, Dr Katrina Raynor describes how current approaches to impact assessment and the structure of the academic labour market impede researchers from engaging with PAR and raise particular challenges for insecurely employed early career researchers.

Manufacturing Collaboration – Can you teach researchers how to achieve impact?

As part of the impact agenda and the increased focus on realising social and economic returns on research investment, universities have increasingly sought to promote and train academics to carry out research collaborations across disciplines and with non-academic partners. Whilst this kind of research can be impactful, Helen B Woods argues that attempts to direct research in this way can produce inauthentic collaboration, and suggests an ideas led approach to research collaboration would be more productive and appealing for researchers.

Beware the well-intentioned advice of unusually successful academics

There is a wealth of advice and ‘how to’ guides available to academics on the subject of how research can have an impact on policy and practice. In this post Kathryn Oliver and Paul Cairney assess the value of this literature, arguing that unless researchers seek to situate research impact within processes of policymaking and academic knowledge production, this advice can ultimately reinforce current inequalities in research impact.

A PhD is not just a degree – it is an opportunity to develop the skills needed to deliver impact

Some PhD students and early career academics feel that the demands placed on them are so intense that they can never devote time to ‘secondary’ activities. Research comes first and last, and the doctorate ‘grind’ is something that has to be ‘got out of the way’ before they can focus on anything else. In contrast, Hayley Teasdale argues that PhD studies are an ideal time for developing your research communication and impact skills and growing your entrepreneurial and organisational capabilities.

Tale of the converted: how complex social problems have made me question the use of data in driving impact

In practice the way in which research impacts and influences policy and society is often thought to be a rational, ordered and linear process. Whilst this might represent a ‘common sense’ understanding of research impact, in this cross-post John Burgoyne reflects on how upending the primacy of data and embracing complexity can lead to a more nuanced and effective understanding of research impact.

To unlock the impact of ECR research, create stable academic identities

Societal impact has become the hallmark of high quality research, as is reflected in the decision to make impact worth 25% of REF 2021 assessments and the introduction of Research Missions into the Horizon Europe framework. However, the ability to produce societal impacts is often linked to career stage and job stability. Reporting on a survey of Early Career Researchers (ECRs), Corina Balaban and Paul Benneworth highlight key structural barriers that limit the impact of ECR research and argue for the need to introduce an ethos and long term vision to deliver impact in higher education organisations.

The changing imperative to demonstrate social science impact

In less than a decade the impact agenda has evolved from being a controversial idea to an established part of most national research systems. Over the same period the conceptualisation of research impact in the social sciences and the ability to create and measure research impact through digital communication media has also developed significantly. In this post, Ziyad Marar argues that it is time to reinvigorate the debate on demonstrating social science research impact and to develop a language for talking about research impact that is unique to the social sciences.

Coming to terms with the hidden costs of co-production

Co-production – the inclusion of the stakeholders of research into the research process – is often presented as the gold standard for the production of socially relevant high impact research. However, undertaking co-produced research presents a range of challenges and risks that can be overlooked in the rush to engagement and impact. In this post Kathryn Oliver, Anita Kothari, and Nicholas Mays, assess the hidden costs of co-production and suggest that before researchers and research organisation engage with co-production, they should carefully consider what research strategy is most appropriate for their research aims.

Building a culture of research impact

Drawing on case study evidence from the DFID-ESRC Growth Research Programme, Louise Shaxson suggests that developing a culture of engagement and collaboration is just as important to achieving research impact as following best practice, and presents five principles that underpin an effective research impact culture.


Third mission accomplished? Why are universities bad at engaging with local and regional government and what we can do about it.

Universities are increasingly called upon to engage with local and regional government, namely as part of a ‘third academic mission’, but how effectively do they incentivize academics to do so? Using evidence from her study of the University of Aveiro, Liliana Fonseca explores the barriers that hinder engagement with these institutions and makes recommendations for how universities could expand and improve the implementation of the third mission.

Who are stakeholders in research? A Science and Technology Studies approach to navigating research impact

The early engagement of ‘stakeholders’ in research is often presented as a simple way to ensure that research is aligned to the needs of research users and therefore impactful. However, who these stakeholders are and what their interests might be is not always obvious. In this post Robert Borst and Annette Boaz reflect on their research on stakeholder engagement as part of a larger European research project on tobacco control and present a methodology grounded in Science and Technology Studies (STS) to enable researchers to more effectively engage with stakeholders in research.

If we’re serious about changing the world, we need to get our evidence right- A comment on the 2019 Nobel Prize for Economics.

The announcement of this year’s Nobel Prize in economics has highlighted divisions within the development economics community, particularly around the efficacy of using Randomised Controlled Trials (RCTs) as a tool for making social interventions. In this post Gorgi Krlev discusses the pros and cons of experimental approaches in economics and suggests that rather than seeing routes to delivering social change as a binary choice between macro and micro approaches, social scientists should instead recognise the inherent complexity of social change and adopt realist approaches in assessing how best to make social interventions.



Note: This article gives the views of the authors, and not the position of the LSE Impact Blog, nor of the London School of Economics. Please review our comments policy if you have any concerns on posting a comment below.

Featured Image Credit adapted from, Daniel Jensen via Unsplash (CC0 1.0)

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Posted In: Annual review | Impact | Knowledge exchange | Knowledge transfer | REF2021

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