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  • Writer's pictureHelen Duffy

Navigating the path to evidence of research impact

Updated: 2 hours ago

Firstly, before we dive into a discussion on evidence, it might be helpful to define what I mean by evidence in the context of research impact.

Defining evidence of research impact

Although research findings are often used in evidence-based policy, practice, and decision-making, I shall be focusing here on the evidence that helps to tell the story about the impact of your research with credibility. It can come in the form of qualitative or quantitative data and helps to substantiate the claims about what change your research has contributed to.

Evidence of research impact is an essential component of the REF ICS, funding applications, reporting and crucial for you to communicate your research to the wider public. Unfortunately, evidence will rarely just fall into your lap, and as such, it needs to be an active part of your research.

Determining what research evidence to capture

You may want to consider the type of research you do, which will dictate the type of evidence. No one size fits all, even in similar disciplines.

Defining the change and impact your research contributes to is essential in defining how you will measure and evidence the change. That’s not to say that evidencing the research engagement and activities isn’t important, as this would assist in understanding how those activities lead to that change; however, evidencing the change is more challenging. The impact could be societal, environmental, economical, cultural, or sit in a few of these areas.

Crafting your impact narrative

Imagine telling someone who knows nothing about your research who then confronts you with the ‘So what?’ and ‘What happened next?’ questions. These can help to identify what information you need to tell the story of what happens next - this can differentiate the evidence of engagement from the evidence of impact.

Academic narratives are often about the quest or telling the story of your discovery, yet the best case studies almost always include an element of marketing storytelling, that is persuading others of the value. In our impact storytelling tutorial, we talk about the psychology of a story and how to apply this to research. This could mean following a simple story arc - what the problem is and who it affects, how your research contributes to helping solve the problem, the political or societal benefits your research contributes and who benefits.

Practical considerations in data collection

Of course, what evidence is available will inevitably influence the story you tell about your research. You’ll need to be practical in deciding what you do to collect the data - how can it be proportionate to research itself?

In terms of time, and knowing when to think about, identify and collect evidence, I think with most things related to impact and measurement, it’s worth thinking about this at the beginning so you know what to look out for, and perhaps be equipped to capture any evidence from unintended benefits.

Embracing creative and inclusive approaches to evidence gathering 

While traditional methods such as surveys are valuable in capturing information from a target group, as an advocate for arts and humanities approaches, I champion embracing creativity in data collection which can generate rich and somewhat unanticipated insights. In my previous role that centered around understanding and articulating the value of the arts and humanities research, conversations with researchers would often orbit around the difficulty of measuring the impact. But I also saw how creative and arts-based methodologies could help to shift how partners, communities, and beneficiaries engage with a research study and offer different ways to generate knowledge.

Creative and art-based methodologies also lend themselves well to an inclusive approach. Having worked previously in the international development space, I am always keen to understand how participatory, collaborative, and co-produced methods can meaningfully capture the research impact and the evidence, how you can evidence in terms of your partnerships, communities, and how you can bring more transparency and reflection into evidence.

Further resources to explore on evidencing impact

The questions that this topic provokes continue to hold my attention. It’s an evolving discussion which the Centre for Cultural Value recognises and contributes to through its work and resources, such as its research digest and the Evaluation Principles, a framework to underpin how evaluation is carried out and used in the cultural sector.

Our new Impact Integrators training course, Evidencing Engagement and Impact which is coming out in the Spring, has been developed to help you think through some of the key questions about evidence and guide you through exercises to reflect on your own evidence gathering. Get in touch if you’d like to know more.

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