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Changes to Impact and Pathways to Impact

Changes to Impact and Pathways to Impact: What does it mean for your proposal?

At the beginning of 2020 UK Research and Innovation announced that from 1st March applicants would no longer need to complete an Impact Summary or produce a Pathways to Impact attachment when applying for research funding. Given the emphasis that has been placed on impact by UK research councils over the past few years, this announcement is likely to have come as a surprise to many. UKRI have stipulated however that this change does not mean that impact is no longer considered important; it simply reflects a drive to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of the processes used.

What is UKRI's Stance on Impact?
UKRI have maintained their stance that ‘the impact agenda is vital - UK Research and Innovation exists to fund the researchers who generate the knowledge that society needs, and the innovators who can turn this knowledge into public benefit [1]. The reasoning given by UKRI for the implementation of these changes is that impact has become a widely recognised and core component of research proposals. The pathways to impact and impact summary components have driven a culture change such that the importance of impact is key to grant applications and thus these separate sections are no longer required.

What do the Research Councils Say?
While there is a consensus across all research councils that impact is still vital, the councils have taken different approaches to implanting the changes and reconfiguring their application guidance notes. UKRI acknowledge this and recommend that researchers consult the specific call guidance for the council and the call to which they are applying. In practice this doesn’t change the process that should be engaged in prior to and during bid writing: it has always been essential to read, understand and repeatedly refer to the information that is provided by funders about the types of outcomes and impact that are required.

Although there are differences between the ways in which research councils have implemented the announced changes relating to pathways to impact and impact summaries, the assertion by UKRI that impact is as crucial as ever is mirrored in all councils’ updated supporting documents. Whilst the emphasis on impact is not always evident on first glance, it is clearly apparent from a more careful review of the guidance notes for both bidders and reviewers. For example, although EPSRC’s new peer review assessment criteria do not use the word ‘impact’, it is not necessary to look at the guidance particularly closely to identify that impact is a key criterion. Reviewers are asked to comment on how the research ‘contributes to, or helps maintain the health of other disciplines, contributes to addressing key UK societal challenges and/or contributes to future UK economic success and development of emerging industry(s)[2]. All of the research councils require that impact is considered, for example:

There are no longer dedicated spaces to detail who will benefit, how they will benefit and the means by which these impacts will be realised Therefore, it is essential that impact is embedded throughout the case for support - your reviewers will be looking for evidence of it. To ensure that this is the case, impact should be an integral component of all stages of bid development. During the planning stages you should be thinking about what the desired impacts of your research are and what will be needed to maximise the chances of these impacts being achieved. Some questions to think about include:

  • Who will need to be involved in the research and in what capacity?
  • Whose support and buy-in will you need to ensure?
  • What objectives will be needed to deliver the required outputs and what methods will be most suitable for achieving those objectives?

Theory of change can be an extremely valuable tool in mapping out these components and pathways for your project. For further information on theory of change please see our dedicated article .

If impact and pathways to impact is made a central component of the research planning phases, the process of integrating it into your proposal will be relatively straightforward. The context that you provide for example, will be focused on the problem that your research is designed to have an impact upon. Furthermore, the methodology that you describe will be justifiable in terms of being the most suitable to achieve impact and the stakeholders that are involved will be those that are needed to help realise the impact. GrantCraft can provide support with all aspects of impact planning and proposal development. Contact us for further information.