Celebrating Impact Prize winners 2013: shaping our understanding of impact?

In my role, frequently I am asked about what is impact and how engagement work can lead to impact. There is, sadly, no easy answer to these questions – which proves especially challenging in the development of impact case studies for the REF or research proposals requiring an impact summary and a pathways to impact statement. To an extent, appropriate engagement and impact is highly dependent upon the nature of the research in question and the researcher(s) involved – but again that does not provide any easier answers on how to develop impact or demonstrate excellence. With the REF2014 submission looming in November, much discussion of impact seems to focus on the difficulties associated with writing impact case studies, understanding our approach to impact since 2008 and what will be our future impact strategy. Thus, much discussion of impact is tainted with negativity, not helped by wider discussion around the funding of research and what is most beneficial to society.

Amidst this gloom, it is perhaps all too easy to forget the outstanding work that goes on across the sector whereby colleagues are, day-in day-out making a positive difference to our society and economy. I am reminded of  this by recent announcement of the ESRC Celebrating Impact Prize winners for 2013 – you can read the full report here.    This has a personal connection for me – one of the winners of the Outstanding Impact in Public Policy prize, Professor Kevin Morgan – was a senior colleagues (and something of a mentor) in my first research post and an extremely inspirational one at that! At the time (pre RAE 2008 submission days), much focus was on high quality publications, and as a young researcher this is where I was advised to focus! Sound advice which I still relay today, but it is great to see a long track record of impact and engagement being rewarded by the ESRC.

Exactly what constitutes impact will continue to contested, debated and defined – but what is perhaps clear to see is how important it is to share and celebrate what we instinctively know is making a positive difference to the world around us to help guide the development of how impact is evaluated and assessed.