University of Oulu, 2016

Impact Spotting

Competition for research grants is fierce and funding is given to those who promise value for money, also known as impact. Often the only incentive for researchers to write the impact section in the funding application is to please the funder in the hope of getting funding. However, if the impact is not genuine, the reviewers won’t buy it.

“I will publish a book - that's my impact.”

What is impact, then? Impact is change:  the wider societal, economic or environmental cumulative change over a longer period of time. This change can be scientific (a paradigm shift, a new method or theory), societal (changes in behavior, better policies), economic (cheaper ways to produce goods or energy, inventions that lead to new businesses), cultural (changes in creative practices or cultural institutions), or environmental (solutions to environmental challenges such as a new method to clean the ocean).

“How is sustainable development relevant for research?”

Many public funders require that the funded projects tackle global problems and point out which UN sustainable development goals (SDGs) stand in the focus of the proposed project. Bringing in the politics and demands of societal impact may seem to diminish the fun part of research, but that doesn’t have to be the case. Understanding the bigger picture – how and why your research matters – brings new insights to your research: whom does it concern? Does it have wider impact than you thought? In fact, societal and economic impact can actually boost the academic impact. In the end, could it be fun instead of for the funder?

To make impact to actually happen, research has to be communicated. Wider impact doesn’t happen if nobody uptakes the results outside academia and actually uses them. To get your message across, you need the right channels and the right audience. The number one method to reach your peers is to present your findings in scientific conferences and publish in scientific journals. But do decision makers or other interest groups read scientific papers? And how do you engage citizens and taxpayers?

We have noticed that a lot of researchers struggle to give a concise and clear answer to what the impact of their research actually is.

“I am just developing an algorithm, there is no impact involved.”

After asking the same guiding questions again and again, we developed a simple tool to make the concept of impact, and ways to achieve it, easier to grasp for us and the researcher. We came up with the impact helper canvas, which is designed to open up the concept and to spot your impact.  

Want more information about the canvas or a whole workshop? Contact us.

Sirpa Aalto (FOH), Kirsi Ojutkangas (Research support services) and Elina Rossi (ITEE)

Last updated: 30.1.2020