The tools, resources and information on this page will help you plan for impact, increasing the likelihood of your research making a positive difference in the world. Using them, you will be able to identify who in society stands to benefit from your research, work out how you can connect with the right people to create impact, and write more convincingly about the potential impact of your work.
What is impact?
Before you can plan for impact, you need to know what it is. Our introductory page offers definitions, describes the various types of impact that research can have, and explains why it’s in your interest to think about impact. Read more >
Impact Planning Canvas
The Impact Planning Canvas is a tool which makes life easier by breaking impact down into its component parts. It can help with many aspects of impact planning, from identifying collaborators to writing impact sections in funding proposals.
It’s preferable to think about impact at the beginning of a research project – this gives you the best chance of getting your research into the right hands to make a difference. However, the Canvas can be completed at any stage of the research journey. It’s never too late to think about impact. The Canvas can also be used to reflect on completed projects, helping you identify impacts that may have already occurred.
The best way to fill it in is to use post-it notes, either physically or using an online whiteboard system, like Miro or Google Jamboard. This allows you to think flexibly, and makes it easier to adapt your responses as you work through the different sections. Completing the canvas shouldn’t take long – just 15 to 30 minutes.
UCD have developed an instructional video on how to use the Canvas, which includes worked examples. Read More>
Other impact planning resources
- Professor Mark Reed at Fast Track Impact has a freely available Impact Planning Template which you may wish to use in conjunction with the Canvas. He also offers a Stakeholder Analysis Template, which can help you prioritise which beneficiaries to work with.
- Supported by CÚRAM SFI Research Centre for Medical Devices, the PI Impact project is dedicated to supporting early career and established scientists and principal investigators, both of research relating to the development of medical devices and beyond, to plan for, monitor and evaluate broader, non-academic impact from their research activities.
The Impact Journey
The impact journey describes how research can lead to impacts on society (and academia). It traces research over time, distinguishing between five different stages on the pathway to impact:
- Inputs: What researchers need.
- Activities: What researchers do.
- Outputs: The products of research.
- Outcomes: People becoming aware of, and using, these products. They generally occur in the short- to medium-term.
- Impacts: Changes in society that result from outputs and outcomes. Typically, impacts occur in the longer-term.
The diagram below demonstrates this pathway, with examples under each of the five stages. It is based on the W.K. Kellogg Foundation Logic Model.
Of course, this diagram doesn’t capture the myriad complexities of real-world impact journeys. In reality, the process is rarely linear, and many factors beyond your research will play a role in the impact. Moreover, impacts can often take many years to arise. But the model can help you think about the steps involved in converting your research into societal change.
The diagram also highlights how, as a researcher, you have less control as you travel further along the impact pathway. You can directly control your research activities and outputs, but can only influence the extent to which those outputs are used by others (you can’t determine exactly how much media coverage your work will receive, for example). And you have less control still over what might change in society because of people using your research.
But this is no reason to be passive: you should do what you can to steer your research towards positive impacts.
The best impact plans are collaborative or co-created with those who will benefit from the research.
Engaged research describes a wide range of non-discipline-specific, high-quality and rigorous research approaches and methodologies that share a common interest in collaborative engagement with the community, and aim to improve, understand or investigate an issue of public interest or concern, including societal challenges. Engaged research is advanced with community partners rather than for them. In this context, community refers to a range of research stakeholders, including public or professional service and product users, policy-makers, civil and civic society organisations, members of the public and other relevant stakeholders, including those most affected by the research topic.
Based within the Irish Universities Association, Campus Engage developed a handy 'How to Guide' on planning for impact and setting impact targets: Engaged Research Planning For Impact - Society and Higher Education Addressing Grand Societal Challenges Together. Campus Engage carried out an international literature review, and a national consultation with over 300 stakeholders, to build an Engaged Research Impact Framework for Ireland (2017). This, and associated tools and training opportunities, can be accessed here.
Other engagement resources at NUI Galway
PPI Ignite - Funded by the Health Research Board, the PPI Ignite NUI Galway team works with researchers and the public and patients to ensure that the voice of the patient shapes and influences our health and social care research, enhancing the quality, relevance and impact of the research.
The Community Knowledge Initiative (CKI) - The CKI aims to promote greater civic engagement through core academic activities, namely teaching, research and service at the levels of students, staff, courses, programmes and the institution as a whole.
How to write an effective impact section
Jump ahead to our Communicate section to learn what makes a compelling impact section in a funding proposal. Incorporate meaningful impact planning and give yourself the best chance of being funded.
At NUI Galway, we offer various workshops and seminars on impact planning:
Dr Tamika Heiden, Founder of the Research Impact Academy, delivered a recorded workshop for NUI Galway, on 'Planning for and Communicating Prospective Research Impact', which you can find here. Dr Heiden has developed world-leading research translation and impact services to equip you with the latest skills and expertise.
To find out about other workshops and seminars, please visit our SharePoint site.
Click here to proceed to the Capture section
The development of this toolkit was led by UCD, with funding from the HEA, and members of a Research Impact Working Group. Further information available here.