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  • Writer's pictureSaskia Walcott

Changing mindsets to generate research impact

Updated: Apr 23

When asked to give a talk on Generating Impact to a room full of the UK’s future research leaders at the recent UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship conference in Manchester, I needed to think quite hard about the messages to deliver. Read on for what I had to say...

Image shows a photo of Saskia Walcott speaking at the UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship conference. She is standing at a lectern speaking into a mircrophone headset and has a colourful scarf draped over one shoulder. The photo is set in a circular frame on an aqua coloured background and has the white Walcott Communications W logo mark in the bottom right hand corner.

How to achieve research impact

We work with academics in the UK and around the world and “How do I do impact?” is the perennial question. Someone asked me if impact is the same around the world. Whilst it might be framed differently to fit the policies of a national funding council or a university, in truth they are all quite similar. And so to answer the question of whether it is possible to have a singular way of doing impact that is transferable my answer is yes, to a degree. At Walcott Communications we have developed a formula – the foundations of impact – or four key skills we believe should be adopted for research impact to be achieved:

The foundations of impact

The first step in the impact journey begins with the mindset with which researchers and research teams approach your research question, who you engage with to help shape that question and how you design your research.

The second skill is networking. This is essential because it is important to accept that impact is not within your gift. Researchers are not responsible for the societal change happening. There are so many contextual factors that come into play; others make it happen.

So for your research to have a chance of making a difference there is a network that will take your ideas and findings and help you to translate them into usable tools and policies that may, eventually, make a difference to others. What is within your power, however, and the skill to develop, is building and establishing a network that will help realise impact further down the line.

The third skill is how to convince others to resource the engagement, dissemination, knowledge or public engagement activity that is absolutely necessary to facilitate your research concepts moving from sitting in a journal paper to being utilised or actioned by others. It’s about not just money but understanding that generating impact takes time, and access to skills and expertise you won’t necessarily have as academics, but still needs resourcing so your impact team needs to be more than just you.

And finally, the fourth skill is getting into the habit of gathering evidence of change along the way. And this is not just for those of you with an eye on producing an impact case study for REF 2029. It’s about evidence that you can report to funders or insert in future funding bids, but also as a learning tool for yourself and for your own gratification. So yes, there is a foundation, a set of basic skills that you can adopt and apply that will help maximse the potential of your research making a difference.

Developing a research impact mindset and culture

We have trained 100s of researchers in this way and know that many still often struggle to translate that into their everyday. Then there’s the fact that word impact is in itself problematic – sometimes misused, often interpreted differently. There’s REFable impact and non-REFable impact. It can be intimidating – it’s long-term and effectively out of your control. The impact is not in your gift.

The impact I talk about here encompasses a bucket of different concepts and activities and it’s my job to unravel the concept of impact for the people we train and the senior teams we support. Integrating impact into your research is about adopting a series of small habits, not trying to do everything at once. But it needs time and space to develop. You also cannot achieve research impact without creating a research culture that is respectful and supportive to those that really want to pursue the impact from their research. Impact and culture are interlinked and changing mindsets, as I said at the start, is where impact really begins!

If you would like to know more about how we advise senior teams to deliver strategic impact support and ensure they have the foundations to build a flourishing impact culture, read this case study or book a call.


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