It has taken me a shamefully long time to share the discussions from the Impact SIG session at ARMA 2016. Huge apologies. Life, leg and why-have-the-children-nicked-my-laptop-again are main culprits, But don’t worry, I will take myself to the naughty step and lose my own iPad privileges.
Thanks again to everyone who contributed to the session. It really was a wonderfully energised discussion, and so lovely to see our growing impact community share so much good practice. You can see the notes here (as copied directly from the discussion sheets). Undoubtedly there is further work need to unpack these areas and consider viable solutions, but they are presented in full as ‘food for thought’.
In addition to the notes, here’s a few additional summary points. I welcome other thoughts / interpretations etc of what was said, but the main threads coming out seemed to be:
- We (impact professionals) are still trying, within our individual institutions, to find the ‘best way’ to ‘do impact’. Every institution is doing it differently and there’s no single solution.
- As a professional community we haven’t yet cemented our identity; within our group we know the efforts, skills and specialisms needed to deliver impact. However it isn’t necessarily recognised more widely, making professional development difficult.
- We operate as the link between the institutional/sector requirements and the academic. This brings challenges and tensions in managing expectations, building a positive impact culture and linking a laudable agenda with an assessment driven strategy. Those new to impact can draw on the tried and tested methods of the more battleworn veterans……!
- With the shifting sands around the next REF, we need strong, knowledgeable and skilled impact staff. Unless impact is treated as more than just an entry in an information system, we will always struggle to generate the impact we hope to capture.
- Information management remains a challenge. New and increasingly established systems are welcomed, but there are still difficulties in (e.g.) tracking effects, comparing impact types and interoperability.
- Co-creation of impact is valued, but it can be difficult to achieve when academics and ‘real people’ use different languages. It also takes a long time to build the necessary trust.
- Impact storytelling is a skilled process. From selecting the story to writing a compelling evidence based narrative, care must be taken to ‘get this right’. This requires clarity on individual roles and the nature of what counts as ‘good’, along with the development of skills to write for different audiences. Storytelling in its many forms may benefit from external input and advice.
So where do we go from here? A clear tone of the group was the need for a clearer professional identity – made difficult, we recognise, by the breadth of activities undertaken within the ‘impact banner’. Through sharing best practice (and ‘never try that again’ practice), we are building the critical understanding of how impact works on the ground and how to best support and manage it. This will help us cut through institutional siloing and impact firefighting that can – if left unchecked – pervade the research sector. The ARMA Impact SIG and ARMA Training and Development Committee will actively work to reinforce good practice and professional identity through networking and skills based capacity building. This can and will extend beyond a single conference session; we’re just in the midst of working out how!
A firm takeaway message for me is the sheer commitment and energy of the impact community. Such an enthusing crowd to be part of! So whilst the sector is still working out the ultimate question of life, the universe and impact, let’s keep building our community, our networks and our identity. And drink lots of tea / wine / gin* (delete as appropriate).