How to collect evidence of research impact

Communicating the difference that publicly funded research is making is key for national and international research funding organisations.

For the recipients of research funding, descriptions of research impact supported by appropriate and transparent evidence will be increasingly important.

The increase in importance will drive the use of such evidence for internal analysis and management of research activity, as well as for external assessment.

So how can organisations capture this evidence?

Capture throughout the research process

Impact research life cycle

Impact can occur throughout the research cycle, not just at the end of a project. Impact implementation, and the collection of material useful as a source of impact evidence, should be a continuous part of the process.

This starts right at the beginning of the project: planning impact activities to ensure they are appropriately resourced and that methods of capturing evidence are set up.

For example, this might be having an up-to-date database of industry contacts which allows researchers to track the progress of the beneficiaries more easily.

These activities may also require funding and support in kind; identifying these will allow researchers to apply for the appropriate resources to increase impact and be able to capture the data.

At these early stages the evidence may be more about the activities, but this will help to link the research to the impact later.

Identify who benefits

It is important to collect the information continuously, keeping an open mind as impacts may occur in a variety of ways and serendipitously, rather than strictly to plan.

A good way to begin is identifying who the beneficiaries are likely to be, and then reviewing how they have used the research and what has changed for them as a result.

Use for different audiences

The information gathered to show impact evidence can be repurposed for different audiences. These audiences can be external, such as academic colleagues at other institutions, research funders and industry partners.

Impact evidence can support the case for further research funding, collaborations and partnerships. Alternatively, the audiences can be internal, such as promotions boards and management teams.

While the ways of reporting may change it is clear that impact and impact evidence will continue to be of importance to the research sector.

See more comprehensive guidance about collecting research impact evidence