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How To Extend Your Research Impact Beyond The Ivory Tower: A Framework for Academics

The contemporary academic world prizes not just the quality of research, but, importantly, its real-world impact. Gone are the days when the sheer quantity of publications sufficed as the gold standard for academic success.

This shift necessitates a fundamental change in how academics approach the dissemination and communication of their work.

In this blog post, I offer considerations and resources for designing your next Impact Strategy to sit alongside your academic publication success.

From Quantity to Quality to Impact

In the recent past, academic success was measured by quantity – how many papers a scholar published; emphasis was on producing a high volume of outputs.

Many scholars played the game (and got promoted for doing so) to such an extent that the breaks got applied when quality concerns drove funding bodies, university promotion and hiring committees etc. to switch their praise towards quality i.e., meaningful contributions.

Quality metrics emphasise rigorous, high-impact research and publications in prestigious journals.

In theory, this shift helped raise standards and ensure scholarship was substantive. However, the shift still didn’t quite capture an important aspect of (often publicly funded) academic work: its real-world impact.

‘Impact’ prioritises things like how research affects policies, improves lives, advances a field, or is applied in the real world. So, it’s not just about performing quality work in isolation (or locked behind a payway of an A* journal), but producing work that makes a difference.

Of course all three (quaity, quantity, and impact) exist along a continuum, with scholars trying to balance the three to stay afloat.

With awareness of the importance of an Impact Strategy alongside academic publishing gaining attention, scholars are increasingly needing to build impact and incorporate it into their publication strategies.

Having (in a past life) worked as a marketing manager, I reflected on a framework of sorts that might be useful when considering an impact strategy to sit alongside your next (traditional) publication win (e.g, academic journal article or book chapter).

Crafting an Effective Impact Strategy for Academic Publishing

Having an Impact Strategy can help you proactively ensure that your research reaches its intended audience and achieves its impact potential.

A critical component of an Impact Strategy is effectively communicating the value of research findings to a broader audience, which often requires stepping outside traditional academic platforms.

When crafting your own Impact Strategy, you might consider the following.

Key Considerations for an Impact Strategy

  1. Objectives: Clearly define what you aim to achieve with your research impact.
  2. Stakeholders: Identify who will benefit from gaining awareness of your research. What are their needs and how they might use your findings?
  3. Channels and Activities: Determine the appropriate channels and activities to engage stakeholders. If your stakeholders are on LinkedIn, post on LinkedIn. If they are on TikTok, it might be more appropriate to deliver the message there. Beyond social channels, consider creating policy briefs, participating in public engagement events, industry partnerships, workshops, or media outreach.
  4. Resources: Assess the resources you have and what you’ll need. This includes funding, skills, and time.
  5. Evaluation: Plan how you will measure the success of your impact activities. Include both qualitative and quantitative measures.
  6. Timeline: Develop a realistic timeline for your impact activities, taking into account any external factors such as policy cycles or funding rounds.
  7. Communication: Craft a clear, compelling message about your research that can be easily understood by non-specialists. Focus on communicating the value of the research to stakeholders, not how excited you are to add the publication to your resume!
  8. Sustainability: Consider how the impact of your research can be sustained over time.
  9. Risks and Mitigation: Identify potential risks to your impact plan and how you might mitigate them.
  10. Ethics and Integrity: Ensure that your impact strategy and actions adhere to ethical standards and maintains the integrity of your research.
  11. Document!! Design a system for recording impact. Decide on key metrics and keep records (perhaps in a spreadsheet, or, where I do, in Notion). Include metrics such as audience reach on LinkedIn, or blog post reads, or likes and shares. These ‘facts’ can be woven into things like funding or promotions applications to evidence your ‘success’.

Embracing a New Era of Academic Recognition

The evolution of scholarly rewards being oriented towards achieving impact reflects a broader societal demand for research that not only advances knowledge but also drives tangible, positive changes in the world.

As academics navigate this terrain, incorporating a robust Impact Strategy into their publishing practices is not just beneficial. It’s essential.

Through planning and action, researchers can best ensure that their work does not just exist within scholarly circles but resonates throughout society.

Key Takeaways

  • The academic landscape has evolved from prioritising quantity to valuing the quality and real-world impact of research.
  • Real-world impact is now a crucial metric for academic recognition, emphasising research’s influence beyond academia.
  • This shift towards impact-driven academia aligns with societal demands for research that contributes to tangible, positive changes.

If you’d like me to write a blog post about writing social media posts, press releases etc. using AI tools, please let me know!

Additional Resources

The impact cycle of research projects

Presented by Miriam from the University Medical Center Groningen’s Impact Initiative, ‘Research impact, The impact cycle of research projects‘ introduces the concept of the Impact Cycle for research projects. This resource aims to guide researchers in creating impactful outcomes through a structured process.

Key points:

  1. Initial Steps in the Impact Cycle: The first step involves defining the research project’s objectives, identifying societal challenges to address, and determining relevant partners from both academic and non-academic sectors. For instance, in a study on the impact of microbiomes on neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, key partners might include microbiologists, neuroscientists, clinicians, and healthcare organisations.
  2. Design and Execution: In the second step, researchers design their methods and execute them to produce tangible results. This step emphasises the importance of considering how results will be utilised and by whom.
  3. Outcomes and Micro Impact: The third and fourth steps focus on the outcomes of the research and its immediate impact. This involves creating practical tools or guidelines validated by research, like a clinical decision tool in the case study. The impact is evaluated in terms of benefits to stakeholders, such as healthcare professionals and patients.
  4. Societal Impact and Ongoing Engagement: The final step is about the broader societal impact and the importance of engagement with stakeholders and the community. This involves disseminating results, incorporating feedback, and using these insights for future research projects. The cycle is iterative, emphasising continual collaboration and improvement.

Research impact beyond academic audiences

In ‘Research impact beyond academic audiences‘, Associate Professor Yolande Strengers shares the creation and use of ‘Resource Man’, a fictional character that serves as a critical tool for bridging the gap between academic research and practical industry application.

In conversation, she explores the innovative strategies for achieving research impact beyond academic circles.

Key Points:

  1. Resource Man’ Concept: Yolande Strengers discusses ‘Resource Man’, a fictional character representing the idealised energy consumer as envisioned by the energy industry.
  2. Creation of Relatable Concepts: The development of the Resource Man persona demonstrates an innovative approach to embody and critique prevalent industry assumptions about energy consumers. This fictional character serves as a tangible and relatable concept that bridges academic research with real-world industry practices.
  3. Engagement with Industry and Design: The use of Resource Man as a tool to mirror industry assumptions back to itself has led to a re-evaluation of policies and practices within the energy sector. This engagement demonstrates the impact of academic research in influencing industry perspectives and practices, particularly in the design of technologies and policies.
  4. Expanding Research Influence: The research extends its impact beyond academia through various dissemination strategies. These include industry reports, media outreach, and social media engagement, effectively reaching a broader audience and influencing public and industry discourse on energy consumption.
  5. Strategic Dissemination for Diverse Audiences: The approach to disseminating research findings is strategically tailored to different audiences. This involves not just the presentation of findings but also the creation of meaningful content that resonates with specific groups, thereby maximising the impact of academic research in real-world applications and discussions.

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