Including Impact in your UKRI application

Including Impact in your UKRI application

In this post I am going to outline my suggested approach to including impact with a UKRI application. I chose the word ‘approach’ because I am not

  1. going to give you a template nor
  2. any pre-prepared (“boilerplate”) text.

Before we get into the approach, remind yourself of how impact will be accessed (and even if it is a criteria) in the call’s guidance documents. They do vary – some have a significant impact or engagement focus. Whilst others do not mention it at all.

Assuming your call requires you to consider impact then to produce a credible and plan, you need to fully embed its consideration in your approach to generating the whole application. Therefore, we need to go right back to the beginning of formulating that new research idea.

As you start to think about the research questions and research objectives, for your application, ask yourself:

‘If I am successful in answering these questions and achieving these objectives, what impact (beyond the academy) could flow from them?’

You should try and think about the answer to that question in two parts – who is the person(s) / group(s) / organisation(s) that may receive that impact and what is the nature of the impact they may receive. This ‘noun’ and ‘benefit’ format is an impact goal. My suggestion is that these goals need to be included in your Objectives section, with the research objectives.

In my approach you lay out all the research objectives and their associated impact goals for the project before you write the activity focused section – the Case for Support.

Useful conversations

The next step is to get feedback on the research objectives and the impact goals. Most researchers do this already with their research objectives and research questions – Are they ambitious enough? Are they interesting enough? Are they well-formulated? with other academic colleagues and mentors. You also need to do this with your impact goals. Therefore try to identify some representatives of all the ‘nouns’ you have in your draft impact goals and try and get a conversation with them. Are they interested in the impact goals? Have you correctly predicted them? Is there something else that they are much more interested in? Are there other people / groups / organisations you should speak to? This is essentially doing some stakeholder analysis (understanding them better) with some snowballing (who else should I talk to).

Refining your research objectives and impact goals

These conversations (on the research and the impact side) should help you to refine and make more specific your research objectives and your impact goals. If they do – great. However, they may not. Perhaps the non-academics aren’t interested or don’t see how those research questions will lead to that impact. This may mean that you may need to alter your research objectives to get closer to something they are interested in. If you are still excited by the research objectives then we can carry on, if not then we need to re-think what impact may come from your original objectives.

Let’s assume the conversations were all really supportive and everyone was really interested in the project. You are, therefore, nearly ready to begin designing the research and the impact activities to deliver the research objectives and the impact goals. But before you do, write up your research objectives and lay summary.

Using your impact goals to drive the action

Take a final look at the impact goals. This ‘look’ is actually 3 specific views on the impact goals. The first view is ‘What does now look like?’; in evaluation this is known as the Baseline. Look at each of your goals and note down questions that emerge about the current context. Examples include:

  1. Is the group specific? (definitely not ‘the general public’ because that is all of us!)
  2. Do we know how many people are in that group and where are they (geographically)?
  3. What is the current outcome and how it is achieved?
  4. Are there any parts of the group that achieve more / less than this?

These questions are only examples and are not exhaustive. Be curious and think like a reviewer – what questions would they ask you if an interview was part of the decision process (even if it isn’t).

The next step is to look at the goals from the perspective of what is hoped will be achieved; in evaluation this is fully defining the outcome that we will assess against. Examples questions for this phase are:

  1. How many of the group will benefit by when?
  2. What is the best case scenario for the benefit? What’s the best we can hope for and by when?

Again be curious and keep asking questions.

Now that you have a more detailed understanding of your start and end points, you can move into the final view ‘How will we achieve this?’. Examples of questions here are:

  1. What channels does that group use to gather useful information?
  2. Who does that group trust?
  3. How might we use that channel?
  4. How might we connect with those that they trust?

You should now have a very robust Impact Goal and this final phase has moved you into planning your impact activities.

Planning for impact

Every plan should be clear about:

  1. When each action will happen (sometime during the project timescales)
  2. Who undertakes each action (PI, PDRA, external expert who is bought into the project, etc)
  3. How much each action will cost (time and money)
  4. How we will know whether each action has been successful (monitoring and evaluation)

Therefore as you think of actions, think about all these questions – this is as close as I will get to giving you a template.

Keep having those conversations

As you draft your Case for Support, keep having conversations with as many of those people (stakeholders) you originally spoke to. Hopefully, some of them may now be project partners or maybe part of an Advisory Board or some other long term relationship. Whichever relationship you have, get their feedback on the activities you have drafted. Do they think they may work? Who could help you with them? What networks exist that you could tap into?

Supporting you in this process

If you would like me to help you in this process, please get in touch. This support includes commenting on draft impact sections, with enough notice.