This fourth session has taken place on February 9, 2022. The main topic of discussion has been impact. We have looked at the meaning and expectations of impact in research proposals and in REF Impact Case Studies.
Similar to previous sessions, this session has been divided into two main blocks with small-group discussions that have been then reported back to the main group. In the first block, we have explored the UKRI definitions of impact (e.g. AHRC, EPSRC, ESRC), whilst in the second block, we have discussed impact figures in the REF.
The first discussion block has been on planning for impact and writing impact into our research proposals. We were tasked to consider a research proposal that we are involved in and discuss how we plan to approach the question of impact. This requires identifying prospectively what is the right evidence that we expect to provide. The projects that we have discussed are at early stages, with expectations of having an impact in terms of people, technology applications, society, and economy, among others. In the main group, we talked about how impact can become wider than expected, which is referred to as an unintended impact. We also commented about the difference between dissemination and impact, where the latter refers to providing evidence of change in attitudes or behaviours.
The second discussion block was related to how impact is conceived in the REF. Can you demonstrate a change in the law? Giving evidence of this change would relate to impact. We had presentations from two of our classmates who have been involved in Impact Case Studies (ICS) in the last REF 2021 with forthcoming results in May 2022. They kindly shared their lessons learned about the process. It seems that it can take a long time to write an ICS, and the expected writing style is more journalistic about telling a story than scientific about describing an experiment. We then looked at one example of a submitted ICS in REF 2014. We analysed the most salient aspects of this type of submission where you need to tell a story within 5 pages. We finally discussed each of us in smaller groups one REF 2014 ICS of our choice and analysed how our research can be developed as an ICS. We generally agreed that you need to think wider when considering impact.
In this session, I have discovered that impact is about providing evidence of a relevant change. It is a long game and it is difficult to foresee the consequences completely. I have also learned that funding bodies understand impact differently as well as impact is understood differently depending on the discipline. Careful thought should be put into talking about impact because it should be both ambitious and at the same time executable. It is probably one of the most strategic parts of grant writing and hence one of the most difficult parts to devise.
The next FRL session is scheduled for March, where we will be talking about research leadership.