The University’s new Strategic Framework, Making Important Things Happen, lays great emphasis on the University’s role as an agent for change in the world, “At the University we bring together the people and resources to tackle the major challenges of our time, including health and well-being, economic revitalisation, energy and sustainability, climate change, and inter-faith understanding”. This commitment to ensuring that our research has real world impact is explicitly referenced in the Research section of the Framework – ‘Research that Matters’:
- We will expand the impact of our research
We will enhance the impact of our research on public policy, society, health outcomes, and the economy. We will work with our academics and partners to realise the potential impact of their research and scholarship, providing support and valuing these activities. We will use our networks and partnerships and engage with the users of our research locally, nationally, and internationally to make a difference.
Furthermore, the Influence Strand – ‘Engagement for Impact’ - of the Strategic Framework reflects a recognition of the value of engagement to influence change. “Our goal is to use our strengths in research and education to increase the well-being and prosperity of our city, our region, the nation and the world” . Where engagement activity is research-led - and this is not always the case – it is of relevance to this strategy.
Being an engaged university means making our research relevant and responsive to today’s and tomorrow’s societal challenges at the local, regional, national and global level. It requires that we continue to conduct research of outstanding quality and that we continue to develop a culture in which achieving impact with our research is an integral part of our academic life that is rewarding and rewarded, and institutionally fully acknowledged and supported.
The Deputy Pro-Vice-Chancellor Research (Impact) takes lead responsibility for the Research Impact area, supported by College Research Directors and Impact Leads, the Deputy Director Research Planning, and members of the Research Planning team. The Research Committee has the responsibility for oversight of all matters related to research policy and strategy at the University, conceiving research as “covering the whole spectrum of activity from initial idea through the investigative process, whatever form it might take, to the delivery of impact, encompassing engagement and knowledge transfer with potential users, stakeholders or beneficiaries as a part of any or all stages of this process.” It is therefore responsible for oversight of impact generally, whilst the University Impact Working Group has a special responsibility to support the delivery of high quality impact for the next REF.
What is Impact?
As defined by UKRI , “Impact is the demonstrable contribution that excellent research makes to society and the economy. Impact embraces all the extremely diverse ways in which research-related knowledge and skills benefit individual, organisations and nations by:
- fostering global economic performance, and specifically the economic competitiveness of the United Kingdom;
- increasing the effectiveness of public services and policy;
- enhancing quality of life, health and creative output.”
Similarly, the Research Excellence Framework 2014 defined impact as “an effect on, change or benefit to the economy, society, culture, public policy or services, health, the environment or quality of life, beyond academia.” We recognise that all research has the potential for impact but that this may be delivered over a range of timescales and in a wide variety of forms.
The Goals of our Impact Strategy
The goals of this strategy are fourfold:
- To enable all members of the University to engage in activities that facilitate the positive impact of our research, including by ensuring a widespread understanding of the concept of impact and how to deliver it;
- To enhance further the pro-active and structured engagement with research users and beneficiaries to expand and maximise our impact; and
- To ensure we have appropriate resources and mechanisms both to deliver impact and to record, evaluate and communicate internally and externally what the impact of our research is.
- To ensure the University prepares for national and international assessments of our research and its associated impact.
Why should we strive to achieve impact?
Impact relies on the strength of our research, and it contributes to maximise the reach and significance of our research. Contributing positively to sustainable local, regional, national and global social and economic development is a worthwhile goal in itself. Yet, for the University of Birmingham as a research-intensive institution, there are further tangible benefits of achieving impact. Impact enhances the reputation, relevance and responsibility of our research, and our research itself:
- Impact shows we are responsible corporate citizens, using our knowledge and understanding to the benefit of society.
- By reaching out beyond academia, we ensure that our research agenda remains timely and in touch with the contemporary issues faced by society, and contribute to identifying future challenges and opportunities.
- The delivery of impact is an important part of the accountability agenda – showing that the institution makes good use of public funds by reinvesting the outputs back into society.
- Impact enables us to retain and attract excellent staff, students and other partners.
- Impact opens up new research opportunities and enhances the quality and relevance our research through more systematic engagement with users and beneficiaries.
- Impact consolidates existing, and opens up alternative, funding streams that enable us to conduct world-leading research in a highly competitive funding environment.
- Impact provides opportunities to communicate our research and to engage the public with it
How do we achieve impact through our internal and external stakeholders?
It is the responsibility of our academic staff to deliver excellent research from which impact, appropriate to the discipline, may be derived. The University has developed a number of significant incentive schemes and important engagement initiatives to facilitate impact and it provides systematic support for impact activities across its corporate services and within Colleges and Schools.
The University’s engagement initiatives are aimed at key communities and networks we work with externally to achieve impact:
The Action Plan associated with this Strategy (attached as Appendix 1) groups actions under the following broad areas:
- Structural change – ensuring impact is a part of key institutional conversations
- Culture change – making impact embedded, visible and valued within the institution
- Capacity Building: Systems and Processes – how we support impact
- Capacity Building: Training and Development – how we support academics to deliver impact
- Profile and Reputation – making others outside the institution aware of our impact.
The Action Plan will be reviewed and revised on an annual basis to ensure that progress is being made.
The University supports the Plan by encouraging and enabling researchers to build impact into the design of their research and to engage with research users and beneficiaries from the start within a responsible research framework:
- By providing resources specifically for impact generation linked to, and following on from, research projects, including College-based and institutional funds.
- By funding initiatives such as Policy Commissions and the Public Service Academy that give researchers a highly effective, visible and prestigious platform from which to engage with users and beneficiaries and to achieve impact.
- By turning our research into tangible intellectual property through the work of Alta Innovations.
- By recognising and celebrating the impact of our staff, through effective internal and external showcasing and through normal reward mechanisms, such as promotions.
The University has a number of teams in place which aim to encourage and facilitate interaction with those who would use, or benefit from, our research. The University provides a wide range of support mechanisms (further detailed in Appendix 2) that are designed to provide comprehensive and seamless integration of all elements of the impact cycle from grant capture to research to impact to communication and dissemination:
- Corporate services support
- DARO. For support with respect to engagement with alumni.
- External Relations and Media. For support with respect to communicating and promoting research and impact, and for support for policy engagement and regional engagement.
- The Institute of Advanced Studies: for support with respect to networking, collaboration and international relationships;
- The Research Planning Team: for support with respect to strategic approaches to impact, methods of delivery and the measuring, monitoring and evaluation of impact. The team also offer workshops on impact, particularly with reference to the delivery of high quality impact, and to bring together researchers working in similar areas.
- RIS: for support with respect to Strategic Research & Partnerships, EU funding and Enterprise Acceleration.
- College- and School-based support
- Colleges and Schools support academic staff specific to local needs through five College Research Support Offices
Some of our best research cuts across different areas of our expertise and reflects the breadth of our discipline base, and so the impact that we can generate from it affects multiple sectors, too.Beyond the University, we thus work with a variety of partners to ensure that our research has maximum impact on users and beneficiaries. Our external networks reach into:
- The Public Sector
- Civic/Regional impact – through engagement with Birmingham City Council and other important regional agencies and organisations such as the LEPs, the Birmingham Science City Alliance, Midlands Innovation, the Midlands Engine, the West Midlands Combined Authority and Civic Region.
- Health and welfare impact – through engagement with local, regional, national and global health organisations, such as NHS, NICE etc.
- Policy impact – through engagement with UK government departments, NGOs, and international organisations, including in the EU.
- The Private Sector
- Industrial impact – through engagement with business and industry, nationally and internationally.
- Impact on capacity – through training, CPD and the delivery of skilled staff through executive education and high quality postgraduate programmes.
- Wider Society
- Cultural Impact – through engagement with cultural communities and practitioners, such as museums and galleries and other heritage organisations.
- Educational impact – through engagement with schools, colleges, education opinion and policy formers etc.
- Environmental impact – through engagement with the Environment Agency, with government and other public and private sector organisations, locally, regionally, nationally and globally.
How do we assess impact?
In order to judge whether this strategy is successful, and whether our research has impact on and through the wider networks and communities with which we engage, we need to record, monitor and evaluate our impact, and our effectiveness in delivering it. We do this by:
- Working closely with our research users and beneficiaries in order to understand how they view our impact activities and to obtain evidence for that impact.
- Conducting an annual review of all our impact activities, including how we support impact generation and how we communicate about it internally and externally.
 Maps of various different types of impact, showing what support is available from whom, are under development.