Impact - what it is and why it matters

dropWhat is impact?

Why does it matter?

What does impact look like?

Impact and Public Engagement

What is impact?

Impact is the benefit of research to society, outside of academia. Research contributes to the world in many ways - it improves our health and wellbeing, creates economic prosperity, enhances our cultural lives and improves environmental sustainability, to name just a few.

Accountability for public spending on research is a key driver behind the impact agenda. More than £1.5billion per year of tax-payers’ money goes to fund research in higher education institutions. Impact asks us the question: “What is the return on that investment, for the man in the street?”

The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) and Research Councils UK (RCUK) have developed these descriptions:

“An effect on, change or benefit to the economy, society, culture, public policy or services, health, the environment or quality of life, beyond academia.’’

“The demonstrable contribution that excellent research makes to society and the economy.’’






Why does it matter?

1. Allocation of funds

Higher Education research in England is funded through a dual support system. Seven Research Councils provide grants for specific projects and programmes, while the UK’s four Funding Councils provide block grant funding to support the research infrastructure and enable HE institutions to undertake ground-breaking research of their choosing. 
Impact is now taken into account in the allocation of funds for both income streams.

Research Council funding:
Research Council funds are awarded on the basis of applications made by individual researchers, which are subject to independent, expert peer review.  When applying for grants, researchers are asked to complete an Impact Summary, which explains who might benefit from the research and in what ways, and a Pathways to Impact section, which explains what steps researchers will take to ensure  the potential for impact is realised. The winning of research council grants is therefore partially dependent on assessment of and planning for impact.
The Research Councils total budget for grant allocation was £2.59 billion in 2013/14. Leicester’s grant income in the same year was approximately £50million. Find out more about impact and research council applications and how to write a good impact plan.

Quality-related funding:
There are four Funding Councils in the UK, supported by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the devolved Departments of Education. They allocate the block grant funding (known as quality-related funding) which for the year 2013/2014 amounted to £1,557million. The majority of quality-related funding is allocated on the basis of a quality assessment exercise.

In 2008, this assessment was called the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) and in 2014, the Research Excellence Framework (REF). Approximately £16.3m of Leicester’s annual £19.5m Quality Related (QR) grant is directly attributable to our 2008 RAE submission (2013/14). The 2014 REF introduced impact for the first time as a measure of excellence - counting for 20 per cent of the overall quality score. This figure is expected to rise to 25 per cent in the next REF. Find out more about impact and the REF.

So impact plays an important role in securing funding for research at the institutional level.

2. Advocacy

Impact plays a role in securing funding on a national scale. The Funding Councils and Research Councils need evidence of impact as they continue to make the case for sustained investment in research to Government Spending Reviews, in an increasingly challenging fiscal environment.

3. Accountability

Government ministers use impact evidence to justify and account for spending on research to the general public. Accountability to the tax-payer is an issue which has led to a greater emphasis on impact and public engagement with research. Find out more about Public Engagement.

What does impact look like?

Impact indicators differ dramatically between disciplines. RCUK has produced this useful chart of types of impact, which includes impacts such as improving health and wellbeing, creating economic prosperity, enhancing cultural enrichment and quality of life and improving environmental sustainability. Economic and societal impacts are in green.

RCUK chart5

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