Making an Impact
Last week I was fortunate enough to attend a conference on ‘impact’. The reasons I say fortunate is that impact is rather high on my agenda at the moment. In fact, impact is high on the agendas of many academics, on institutional agendas, on political agendas and the agendas of research funding councils in the UK and other countries where research is assessed on a national or regional scale. In the UK, this research assessment is known as the Research Excellence Framework (REF) and impact is one of the metrics used to assess the quality of academic research.
In the UK, the REF is a national assessment that occurs around every 6 years. In this exercise, higher education institutions submit data collected on the number of research active staff members; 4 of their highest quality research outputs (e.g. journal articles or monologues or whatever is appropriate for the discipline); case studies on the impact of their research; and the quality of the research environment. These submissions are then assessed by a panel of academic experts in 36 different units of assessment. In 2014 (the latest REF), 154 institutions were assessed on 1,911 submissions to assess the research quality of work by 52,061 academics and 191,150 of their research outputs. Included in this submission were 6975 impact case studies for review and assessment. Each submission is then graded as either being world leading (4*), internationally excellent (3*), recognised internationally (2*) or recognised nationally (18). This exercise is important as research funding allocations for institutions until the subsequent REF are made according to the panels’ assessment.
There is general consensus as we move towards the next REF, impact will remain a key metric, and possibly become an even more important one. The Research Council UK defines research impact as ‘the demonstrable contribution that excellent research makes to society and the economy’ (RCUK, 2015). In other words, research findings must be used by policy makers and/or practitioners and lead to improved practice, not just published in a report or a journal. In the UK and other countries and regions who have adopted similar research exercises, it is no longer sufficient to rely on the number of citations our research generates, or even to argue the quality of the journal based on its ranking or impact factor.
Unsurprising, a good deal attention has been paid to those that gained high scores for impact in the last REF. Analysis of these case studies reveals they share a number of common factors including their emphasis on partnerships for knowledge exchange and co-creation; outcomes for a diverse range of users, beneficiaries and audiences as individuals or communities; and the scale of the impact (e.g. at a national or international level). In addition, these impact case studies demonstrated a clear strategy to achieve impact including detailed dissemination strategies and systems and procedures for capturing data to provide evidence of the impact. Evidence included emails from users of the research, public lectures and workshops and the feedback from attendees. Publication of briefing or policy statements and journal articles of course are important and so too is the attention generated through social media channels. In hospitality and tourism, the commercialisation of our research, through consultancy is also important as it can drive both financial and social impact.
Many of us, myself included, are now trying to learn lessons from REF2014 in order to increase our impact for the next REF. The current collaborative research I am undertaking on human trafficking in hospitality and tourism, Combat, has the potential to achieve impact within the industry via a number of channels including the take up of the training tools we are developing to increase awareness of trafficking; through the heat maps we are developing to identify geographical trafficking hot spots; through the systems we are developing to ensure that incidences of trafficking are properly reported through appropriate channels and no evidence is destroyed; through the development of monitoring systems to be used at different organisational levels and through ensuring that victims are removed from the ‘clutches’ of traffickers and receive proper support.
Although it is clear why impact is important to me, I believe that all researchers across our CHRIE community should take note of the lessons that can be learned here. As further and higher education resources get tighter, accessing the time and funds to undertake research becomes more problematic and the need to access external research grants becomes more important. Demonstrating the value of our research or the potential value is therefore important and funding bodies, whether public or private, are looking for ‘more bang for their buck’. Thinking about demonstrating how your research will make an impact and how you might ensure that it does may help your grant applications to be more successful as well as your research career. It may also help to develop stronger ties with hospitality firms.
I do hope that this article will therefore provide some ‘food for thought’ for our research community and hopefully open up discussions about the role of CHRIE in helping to achieve impact for members. I do want to point out however, for those of you who are not research active, you may wish to know that there are current discussions underway about introducing a teaching exercise framework (TEF), much along the same lines. Demonstrating the impact we have made through teaching may be more of a challenge and certainly one that may be of interest to our entire CHRIE community. The Combat Project
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