ResourcesGuidance on research impact and knowledge exchange
Guidance on research impact and knowledge exchange for researchers

The terms ‘research impact’ and ‘knowledge exchange’ are now a well established part of the academic landscape. For researchers it is increasingly difficult to avoid these notions as most funders now require funding proposals and applications to include communication or impact plans and the UK HEI funding allowances are now dependant at least in part by their ability to demonstrate impact (REF).

Underpinning the language of impact and knowledge exchange is a belief that research both CAN and SHOULD inform developments in the world outside of academia. Financially at least the argument is clear. The UK invests considerable amounts of resources in primary research, but this research is not fully utilized (HM Treasury, 2006). If this research is not being used in policy and practice then is it still legitimate to expect huge sums of public funding to continue to fund it? There are other reasons why research can and should be used to benefit those outside academia. Everyday decisions are made that affect lives and future opportunities of ordinary people. These decisions often involve high stakes such as people’s education, opportunities, health and even lives. With risks as great as these is it not common sense for us to want those decisions to be informed by the best available research? History is littered with examples where decisions have been taken that were not informed by reliable research with detrimental consequences.

It is clear that there are many, strong reasons why research may be useful to policy or practice. However, using language such as ‘research impact’ leads us to focus almost exclusively on the efforts of researchers, implying that it is only down to them and what they do, whether research is used or not. This massively simplifies the complex processes involved in determining whether, and to what extent research is used. Researchers not the only actors involved and decision whether to use research or not often down to other factors that are outside of the control of researchers (or indeed any other actors). What is needed is a more holistic focus on the broader issue of use (rather than exclusively impact) because it brings in more holistic understanding of research use process and role of different stakeholders in this.

These guides aim to address this issue and provide an introduction for postgraduate researchers and academic staff at all levels and grades across the Institute to assist understanding of terms such as ‘research impact’ and ‘knowledge exchange’ and the key issues within them. Such terms, although now used frequently in both political and wider discourse, are rarely defined in any great detail. These guides aim to address this and to explain the different components and aspects within these debates whilst ‘myth busting’ some common misconceptions about them. Five issues to consider in increasing research impact:

  1. Who are the potential users of research and how may they may be involved in the research process?
  2. What are the different ways that research can be used?
  3. Should all research be used and how do we make it so that it is useful?
  4. What do we know about the use of research and how to understand it?
  5. How can we as researchers enable the use of research?

For each of these five issues, the guides will give clear indication of basic issues, provide links to more detailed information and where available, links to external sites and resources. These guides will be uploaded here shortly.

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