1: Envisage your impact

  • The first step is to envisage the impact you want to achieve. What positive real-world change will result from your research and for whom, to what extent and how? Try to be specific and realistic about the potential impact and how you could evidence it.
  • Impact has several dimensions. It can be economic, social, environmental or cultural. It can also be conceptual, instrumental, capacity building or designed to connect people. You can also think of impact in terms of scope: micro (involving individuals, families and households), meso (involving communities, small to medium businesses or non-government organisations) or macro (including governments and industrial sectors).
  • Impact can be short or long-term, positive or negative; however, positive impact should always be the goal.

2: Engage and represent

  • Generating impact requires engagement with end-users. This involves identifying end-users early: who might be interested in your research and why? Think businesses, communities and community organisations, and government and non-government organisations.
  • Develop an understanding of end-users’ interests, challenges and influence. You can use this information strategically to engage them in delivering mutually beneficial outcomes.
  • This engagement process helps you consider how end-users understand policy problems. For example, cost savings analyses – rather than altruistic motives – might be better drivers of impact, particularly in health settings.
  • Also, consider establishing a Steering Group composed of individuals with the right networks, knowledge and experience to guide, fund or champion your research.
The Interest-Influence Matrix

The Interest-Influence Matrix can help you understand and prioritise end-users based on their interest in the issue, ability to influence change and alignment to your approach. These categories will guide you in who to approach first, and we recommend you approach end-users in the high-interest category. Later on, they can champion and advocate for impact among the hard-to-reach end-users. It is also a good idea to identify any potential conflicts or alliances among end-users to inform your engagement strategy.

Download the Interest-Influence Matrix template

3: Plan for impact

  • Your intended impact, end-user mapping and engagement purpose will inform the research impact strategy to catalyse change.
  • You can then develop knowledge exchange activities around the intended impact, considering time, staff and other resources.
  • Reduce barriers between researchers and end-users by designing activities to improve trust, knowledge exchange and co-production of your shared vision.
  • Challenge your assumptions by considering how end-users understand problems and innovate through engagement and co-design.
  • Consider using dissemination activities such as social media, briefs, webinars, capacity building and professional development workshops.

4: Fast-track impact

  • While generating impact from research usually takes time, you can fast-track it by fostering interactions that yield mutual benefits for you and end-users.
  • Cut back anything distracting you from achieving impact, prioritise work, and hold regular team meetings to identify challenges, review progress and adapt your strategy.
  • Enlist the skills, support and resources required for impactful research. ACU offers the following support for early impact:
    • X6 workload allocation to implement a research impact strategy
    • for engagement, PartnershipInvest offers up to $50K matched co-funding obtained from an external partner
    • for impact, Translate4Impact offers $10K pilot grants and $100K change grants plus smaller booster grants to translate research into impact for end-users.
  • Don’t forget to celebrate significant milestones, acknowledge contributions to foster collaboration, and tell a good story by tailoring research findings and recommendations to specific audiences. The message should be simple to understand but deep in meaning to educate and inspire.

5: Achieve and reflect

  • Take time to step back and reflect. Consider incorporating feedback into the agenda of regular meetings with end-users to manage issues and sustain engagement.
  • It is important to evaluate impact strategies and document lessons learned.

These steps are adapted from the five principles to underpin impact and five steps to fast-track impact described in The Research Impact Handbook 2nd Edition (Mark S. Reed 2018).

Theory of Change (ToC)

A Theory of Change is a roadmap for planning, implementing, and evaluating the impact of a research project. It is a systematic and visual representation of how and why a program or initiative is expected to create change. The comprehensive description of the outcomes, goals, and activities necessary to achieve a desired change in a particular context enables researchers to articulate their vision, identify potential barriers and risks, and monitor progress towards achieving the intended outcomes. A ToC can be developed for all project types – research programs, one-off projects, events, policy, strategy level planning or organisation wide.

Download our Theory of Change Guide

Learn how to measure and evidence research impact

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Page last updated on 11/10/2023

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