How to demonstrate support for impact - ESRC

We ask you to consider impact when you apply for Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) funding. Within the case for support you submit with your application, you must consider thoroughly what you will do and how you will:

  • enable your research to connect with others
  • make a difference conceptually and instrumentally.

The resources you apply for in your plan to enable impact are a vital component of your overall research project. They can validate and transform your approach as well as your experience of research and impact work.

At the same time, we fully recognise the non-linear, emergent and diffuse nature of the research we fund and the effects it has, and understand that impact cannot be predicted or guaranteed.

Sarah Morton, co-investigator for What Works Scotland, says:

“Research impact cannot be achieved from the research production side alone.”

Users can and must play active and varied roles in the use and application of research. You should identify these roles when writing your case for support.

We also recognise that doing effective knowledge exchange with non-academic communities takes time, skills, confidence and money. You should include the costs to deliver the steps you intend to take to maximise opportunities for social and economic impact from your research when applying for funding.

What makes a high quality approach to enabling impact social science impact

A high quality approach to enabling social science impact should include clear awareness of the principles and practices of knowledge exchange, as opposed to dissemination of knowledge only. This includes the application of these principles and practices in co-productive research.

This may include:

  • consulting users when planning and strategising for impact
  • designing training workshops and events for specific user groups
  • planning space to take advantage of unexpected opportunities
  • committing to principal and senior investigator time on knowledge exchange and impact activities.

The strongest proposals we receive show a mindset in which research, knowledge exchange and impact are linked together.

Showing how you will share knowledge

Good impact plans recognise that researchers need more than technical skills and experience of using research and knowledge exchange methods. They also identify when researchers need to strengthen their relationship building, partnership working and negotiation skills to work with research users.

When creating your own case for support, you should ensure that senior researchers, including principal investigators, allocate time to knowledge exchange and impact activities. This is to recognise that collaboration with users often requires a depth of experience and level of standing held by established researchers, which can complement the skills of research associates.

If you intend to do co-productive research, you should allocate substantial time for the principal investigator to work on knowledge exchange and engagement activities.

Tips for developing your impact plan

Plans for enabling impact as part of your proposal should:

  • explain how your research will enable the impacts you are anticipating
  • if necessary, include space and funding for events for the research team to reflect during the research, including research users where helpful – you could allow research users to lead these activities
  • ensure there’s funding and costs for staff and volunteer time for user participation
  • consider including users as co-investigators in your proposal
    carry out skills checks to ensure the team and any partners have, or can develop, the full range of personal and technical skills needed for the research, including facilitation, partnership working, negotiation and conflict resolution – speak to your organisation’s academic development unit or partner training and development specialists to access learning opportunities
  • allow time for senior members of the research team to participate in knowledge exchange and impact generating activities
  • consider building space and resources for formal and informal evaluation to help your team gauge progress and make adjustments as needed
  • get to know and use your institution’s academic development programme to enhance your personal and technical skills sets.

Universities with ESRC Impact Acceleration Accounts provide learning and development opportunities that promote capacities for supporting impact.

Last updated: 31 August 2021

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