Impact literacy (updated)

In 2017, David Phipps and I published a paper on ‘Building the Concept of Impact Literacy‘. In it we argued that impact can only be pursued meaningfully if people are empowered to understand how it works, and an absence of ‘literacy’ undermines good intentions and hopeful plans. In brief, impact literacy (see diagram) is the combination of understanding:

  1. The identification, assessment, evidencing and articulation of impact endpoints (“what”)
  2. The practices that create impact (“how”)
  3. The successful integration of these by research impact practitioners (“who”)

Impact can be pursued without being literate, but this is likely to lead to poor execution, missed opportunities, poor resource use and misaligned or underachieved outcomes. More specifically:

  1. HOW and WHO in the absence of WHAT leads to insufficient understanding of the impact endpoints, effects, indicators and evidence.
  2. WHO and WHAT in the absence of HOW leads to insufficient understanding of the bespoke and nuanced processes by which impact is achieved
  3. HOW and WHAT in the absence of WHO leads to insufficient understanding of the roles and skills required to plan, generate, execute and assess impact


In 2019 we extended this concept in recognition of the need to a) underscore literacy with matters of value, ethics and purpose, b) reflect levels of literacy, and c) drive institutional alongside individual literacy. Our paper – Extending the concept of Research Impact Literacy – expands our earlier thinking and helps scaffold thinking about how literacy can be jointly built. 

This work has now been developed into a free workbook (online version on the way!)