What is research impact?

RDI Network
September 2021
3 min read

Research impact relates to the many different ways in which research and researchers influence and affect real world policies, programs, and interventions. It can include, but is not limited to, increasing awareness, spurring further research, influencing program and policy decisions.  
It is multidimensional, operates in different ways in different sectors, and over time.
However, creating impact is not a straightforward process. The political environment shapes how research is received by key players, with crises and other critical junctures providing opportunities for influence. Research can also have unanticipated and mixed impacts, which can create a loss of opportunity for research. 
Here are some things to consider when reflecting on creating impact and learning from it:

  • Narrowly defining research impact with predetermined quantitative metrics to assess and evaluate research or programs can miss out on the range and richness of impact 
  • Proscribing metrics and methods to assess impact may not be an appropriate tool for projects, research or programs when working with local partners
  • Impact evaluations used to determine future research funding can also motivate research that aims to produce easily quantifiable outcomes, at the cost of diversity and meaningful research
  • Tools to measure impact are continuing to be developed, and so there are always new and more appropriate ways of determining research impact
  • Most importantly, who gets a voice in defining and reporting impact? Whether impact evaluations are used to justify future funding, continue programs, or refine policy, how is feedback collected and which voices are used in these evaluations?

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Photo by Daniel Thomas on Unsplash

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