Dr Karla Zimpel-Leal,

We need to talk about impact

Dr Karla Zimpel-Leal profile picture

Impact is the backbone for success in the academic world. As researchers, we aim to advance our disciplines through rigorous research and contributions to new knowledge. But the real currency for success, apart from publications and effective grant applications, is IMPACT.

Since starting my Innovation Fellowship, which is funded by ESRC under the National Productivity Investment Fund (NPIF), the word impact has been buzzing around me every day, from ‘Pathways to Impact’ statements, to discussions with colleagues on workshops and seminars, conversations with business’ leaders, and the government’s #ImpactAgenda. Do I think this extra pressure is good? Yes! As a researcher, I find this emphasis on impact exciting and imperative to tackle societal challenges. Do I think all research should have an impact agenda? No! But that’s a topic for another blog post… So what does that mean? It means a focus shift to research that changes people’s lives and the environments they live or work, research that has influence outside academia, in the “real world”. The societal and economic impacts of academic research has the potential to significantly benefit society, as seen in the example of the development of Stem Cells for Regenerative Medicine and the founding of a spin-out company, Axordia, or creating new jobs through microbiology knowledge transfer into SMEs. Julia Coffman wrote a great blog on “Three questions that guide how to assess your policy impact” and although the focus is on policy, it offers ideas that apply to anyone building an impact plan. It includes (1) how to identify your audiences, (2) how you want your audiences to change and (3) how to capture your audience’s change.

There is a range of activities where impact can be achieved and delivered, such as:

·        Public engagement (for example, with businesses, media, policy-makers, Think Tanks, trade associations, schools, etc.)

·        Consultancy services

·        Prototyping and testing

·        Patenting & licensing

·        Spinning-out companies

·        Podcasting, Twitting & blogging

·        Publishing through journals, press releases, policy briefs, newsletters

·        Keynoting & teaching

·        Knowledge transfer and exchange activities (KTE)

KTE is an interactive relationship involving the interchange of knowledge between researchers and practice communities. The quality of the relationship and the trust developed among partners are critical components for good KTE. Therefore, building a strong network of partners with a deep understanding of each other’s expectations is key.

KTE is my favourite way of achieving impact as I enjoy working closely with industry and influencers. One of the ways I achieve this is by being an active member of several networks, one of them being the University Industry Innovation Network. I’ll be a speaker at their next annual conference in London, June 20-22, talking about the softer side of innovation and relatedness mechanisms for knowledge transfer. This is a unique opportunity to share and learn directly with academic leaders, practitioners, CEOs, and policymakers. One of the great things about this conference is that it not only brings together a combination of researchers and practitioners, but it also enables learning from good practice cases through innovation tours and facilitated workshops. My goals for the conference are to share my research and receive feedback, identify and build relationships with potential KTE partners, get innovation foresight from renowned leaders and to learn about the local innovation ecosystem. I hope, if all goes well, to make good connections that will not only facilitated future KTE opportunities but also become a vehicle for more impactful research.

Dr Karla Zimpel-Leal

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