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Webinar #14: Making a difference: How to enhance the impact of your research beyond academia

A very special thank you to ARC Laureate Fellow Professor Kliti Grice and ARC Centre Director Professor Janeen Baxter, who so graciously joined ARC Laureate Fellow Professor Sharon Parker in sharing practical tips on research impact beyond academia, summarised below:

Evidence-based tips from Sharon:

  • Think about what impact means in your discipline, and what type of impact is important in your field. “Keep asking who benefits and how, and you will find the impact” (from Prof Mark Read, The Research Impact Handbook).

  • Be considered and strategic. Be realistic about what is possible given the resources you have; and be cognizant of your career stage, where there can be a risk of overemphasis on impact at the cost of academic research (studies do not find a correlation between academic and non-academic impact). Ensure high quality research underpins your impact.

Impact, particularly at the early stage of your research career, may be more localised to begin with – and then you can work up to larger-scale impact as you grow your expertise and resources.
If you are working on a long-term problem, or are unsure where to start, you can start by measuring impact in the process (e.g., engaging with stakeholders during the research design stage), instead of impact in the outcome (e.g., changing stakeholder quality of life).

More tips from Janeen:

  • Plan your impact at the design stage of your research project. Develop a research translation plan that considers the links between the research outputs (e.g., publications) and the impact outcomes (e.g., change in someone’s quality of life). This may include, e.g., communication strategies, communication tools.

  • Think about who you need to engage with, and what expertise and resources you need to draw on to engage with them (e.g., communications specialists, community members, graphic designers). Engage with these individuals, particularly end users, in the design stage; trial your design ideas at, e.g., reference groups, stakeholder groups, community forums.

  • Distinguish between communication (e.g., sharing research findings with different groups, publications) and translation (i.e., translating research findings into impact) – both are important, but they are distinct and require different activities. Communication may be part of a translation plan, but it is not sufficient for translation.

  • Identify and leverage resources available to you – e.g. via your institution or your colleagues. University research offices, communication and media offices may be able to support you with resources and training. Your university may also have funding schemes available to support research engagement and impact. Consider including budget items for engagement and impact in your funding applications.

Impact can also include capacity building via supervising and teaching students, raising awareness and knowledge of an issue – particularly early in your career. Capacity building is a very important form of impact.
  • You can utilise impact case studies to document and show your impact. And you can collect information about the take up of your research by the number of media reports, government reports that include your work, references to your research by NGOs , website hits etc.

More tips from Kliti:

Kliti shared several interesting examples of how she has translated her research into impact, including:

  • Visualisations: The Story of Fossilisation for an ARC grant application; showing the need for research on the past to understand the present (via showing the similarities between the ecological / geochemical systems).

  • Animated cartoons: Showing minute-by-minute of how the dinosaurs died – collaboration with German group. Very popular on YouTube – particularly with school children.

  • Podcast, radio interviews: Creates interest in the community, though sometimes focused on the academic community.

  • Citizen Science: Designed filter to collect microplastics to be put on a yacht to be sailed around the world by Jon Sanders (11th circumnavigation). Simple analytical methodology (not necessarily a high impact paper), but the collaboration generated a lot of media interest and impact.

  • Outreach activities: growing fossils in the lab and bring high school kids into the lab to make their own fossil and take it home.

Trying these things early is important for building confidence in yourself. Making mistakes is okay – you will learn from it and be better next time. If you need to, you can start small (e.g., with responses to a journalist’s questions via email, instead of agreeing to an online radio interview).

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