Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Research impact (Helen Young)

If you’ve been to one of the Research Roadshows in the past few months you will have heard that La Trobe took part in the ARC Engagement and Impact Assessment Pilot. Next year it will be the real thing, with an Engagement and Impact 2018 companion to the Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) exercise.

We might be used to thinking about ‘impact’ in terms of our disciplines or academia more broadly, with measures like peer-reviewed publications, journal rankings and citations, but those things are assessed under ERA.

So what is ‘impact?’ The ARC gives this definition:
Research impact is the demonstrable contribution that research makes to the economy, society, culture, national security, public policy or services, health, the environment, or quality of life, beyond contributions to academia’.

So, the big question for researchers is: ‘what has changed because of my research?’

Impact is about tangible effects that that have resulted from research. It’s the step beyond ‘outreach’ or ‘outputs’ to ‘outcomes.’

This isn’t a new question so much as an old question with new, stronger focus. ARC grant schemes have encouraged us to think about how to disseminate our research findings to a wide audience. But impact is not about just ‘putting our research out there,’ it’s about whether our research is used, and what happens as a result.

For example, your research might include developing a toolkit aimed at helping primary-school teachers improve children’s writing skills. Impact is about teachers using the toolkit and changes in student skills.

Impact doesn’t just mean what you have done with your research, but what others have done as well. You might have written a report for an industry partner or government department; impact is any change in policy or practice due to the report. Impact might also occur in a totally different department, via an NGO or company that works in the area, it doesn’t just mean intended or planned outcomes.

Some research is already oriented towards impact, for example in education or health where a core aim might be to improve people’s lives. However, impact can take many different forms, even within disciplines.

You are in the best position to know and think creatively about what effects your research might have. Did you change how people think about climate change with an emotionally-gripping performance about rural life? Is your lab building a new partnership with a manufacturing company because the process you developed improved their profits for five years and now they want to work with you again? Has your research changed how farmers manage their land or livestock?

From next year La Trobe will be rolling out a new system to help all researchers track their impact, but right now the Research Office is preparing for EI 2018 by asking researchers to get in touch about potential research impact.

We will create a suite of impact case studies for EI 2018, which will present research supported by La Trobe since January 2000, and may include collaborations with industry or other institutions. The case studies will be drawn from the full range of disciplines covered at La Trobe.

As Professor Keith Nugent, the Deputy Vice Chancellor (Research) has written to all staff: “We are proud of our 50 years of positive contributions to the social, environmental and economic wellbeing of our communities, state, nation and the world.” If you – or your research team – would like your work to be considered for the La Trobe submission, or even if you just want to float an idea, please email the Research Office (Research.Engagement.Impact@latrobe.edu.au).

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