We recognise that impact takes time. It may be several years before the relevance of some work is fully recognised / absorbed, or for changes to take place in bureaucratic, social, and economic systems. Impact level results rely on many external factors that are often outside the control of the project/programme, and therefore attribution/contribution to impact may be hard to measure, or impact may never be achieved.
We therefore think it is important to showcase how researchers and donors can create greater research awareness and impact.
The Impact Lab brings together observations and real life experiences. We aim to test assumptions about how to create research impact and share tools that can help others.
As part of the Lab we present a series of learning guides which draw on the lessons for successful impact from grants funded by the ESRC-DFID Joint Fund for Poverty Alleviation Research. The Joint Fund aims to enhance the quality and impact of social science research, with the goal of reducing poverty amongst the poorest countries and peoples of the world. Since 2005, the Joint Fund has enabled 139 research projects held in 65 organisations. An impact evaluation, undertaken in 2016, provides a thorough assessment of the impact of the Joint Fund on policymakers, and other stakeholders over the ten years since it began. Drawing on the ESRC's conceptual framework for impact assessment to inform the evaluation methodology, the study recognises the complexities of the policy development process and the multifaceted nature of social science impact. The study identifies the following five critical barriers to engagement and uptake:
- Low capacity/capability to engage with non-academic audiences
- Insufficient mutual learning
- Weak networks and relationships
- Lack of incentives for policy and practice to be engaged
- Lack of opportunities to respond to demand for evidence.
The Impact Lab seeks to strengthen links and create dialogue by providing an outline of the issues and clear lessons for knowledge practitioners, donors and researchers. Each Learning Guide, therefore, identifies replicable approaches to effective engagement in a particular area previously identified as a potential barrier for impact. Drawing on diverse case studies from the Joint Fund, each guide shares the strategies that have been successfully employed by leading researchers to increase outreach and maximise research uptake and impact in these critical areas.
Many of these approaches may require contextualisation for local conditions, time, effort or funding. However, the results could significantly strengthen the efficacy of research projects' pathways to impact.