Earlier this month, we hosted a webinar to share strategies for gathering evidence of impact for research funding applications.
Speaking were Fiona Millar, Research Funding Officer at the University of Stirling and University of Sheffield’s Kate Armstrong, Evidencing Impact Project Liaison and Sarah Geere, Impact Consultant. All are experts in impact evaluation as it relates to grant funding.
Why it’s important to evidence impact
Fiona Miller works at the University of Stirling’s Research and Innovation Services, in the pre-award lifecycle aspect of research funding. Fiona spoke about the importance of evidencing the impact of research in grant applications and the need to plan ahead for what the impact might be. She explained that by recording impact whilst conducting a project, researchers can demonstrate the effect their work is having on society and beyond.
Fiona then gave an example of a researcher who wanted to know how to evidence the impact her work was having. The University of Stirling subscribes to Altmetric Explorer for Institutions, which Fiona and the researcher used to browse the record of online mentions for her research. They also used the Explorer to identify opportunities where the researcher could use her own communication methods, such as social media channels, to spread the word about her research and influence the impact it was having. Fiona and the researcher found they were able to gather a timeline of online engagement that could be used as evidence for impact.
Fiona then gave three examples of how researchers are using altmetrics for impact evidence gathering at the University of Stirling:
- Impact on policy – One researcher from the University attends parliamentary meetings where their research often gets cited. By referencing the meetings in grant applications, they can demonstrate the impact their research is having on policy.
- Impact on society – Another researcher has developed a new technology that is being used by the Police. By gathering evidence of where their technology is being discussed and used, they can demonstrate their impact on society.
- Impact on academic beneficiaries – Using altmetrics, researchers can see who is looking at their work and identify the interdisciplinary fields that a piece of research is reaching.
Strategies for recording impact evidence
Fiona then offered some final advice. When gathering impact evidence, researchers must think about creating a coherent narrative to explain the relationship between their research and the impact. Researchers can also use evidence to quantify impact. This can be achieved by using tools like Altmetric Explorer for Institutions to gather information on how a piece of research compares to others in the same subject. Finally, researchers must ensure that they use the data appropriately and make sure the impact story they’re telling is relevant.
Sarah Geere then spoke about workflows for impact evidence gathering for grant applications. Sarah explained that when including evidence in a grant proposal, researchers need to show a track record of impact and demonstrate broader engagement outside scholarly research. Secondly, it is also necessary to explain the pathways to impact by evidencing the engagement activities carried out.
To achieve these requirements, it is important that researchers gather impact evidence as their research is being conducted. Altmetrics are very useful for gathering this evidence. Sarah used an example that if a researcher is holding a meeting with stakeholders and he keeps a list of who’s attended, altmetrics can show them which attendees have mentioned the meeting online in real time. The online comments from the attendees can then be used as evidence of the meeting’s impact.
When planning a project, Sarah recommends that researchers think about what the result of each engagement activity might be. She also advises that impact is unpredictable and that researchers must be aware of this when planning their engagement activities. It can also be beneficial to speak to collaborators and stakeholders early on in the
research process to discuss what impacts they expect from the project and what metrics they will use to measure them.
Supporting researchers in the impact gathering process
The University of Sheffield is currently running a project, coordinated by Kate Armstrong, to provide researchers with effective strategies for evidencing impact. This came about after they recognised a demand from researchers to know more about the basics of what impact is and how to reference it in applications.
To begin the project, Kate looked at all the available guides advising on strategies for evidencing impact. She found that there weren’t any simple and concise researcher guides for evidencing impact available.
To begin the process of putting together a guide for Sheffield researchers, Kate collected information about the most widely used evidence gathering strategies across each research domain. She also looked into tools such as Google Analytics, Twitter Analytics, and altmetrics and found they were essential for finding evidence of online impact.
Thanks to Kate’s work, the University of Sheffield now provides easy-to-follow guides for researchers for evidencing their impact. Kate and Sarah’s team has also produced practical tools for researchers to use when gathering evidence, such as public engagement follow-up form templates.
Example of a public engagement form supplied by the University of Sheffield
We’d like to give a big thank you to Fiona, Sarah, and Kate for joining us on the webinar and sharing their expert tips! The full recording of the webinar is now available to watch on our YouTube channel.