UHCW Research Summit

I was DELIGHTED to speak at this year’s UHCW annual summit, having enjoyed last year’s so much. There was such a fabulous buzz and appetite for good practice that it was impossible not to be enthused! A fabulous job done by all.

My slides – if you want them – are here. The rest of the blog posts on this site cover some of the points in more detail too, but please get in touch if you want to chat further.

*drops impact mic* 

Coming to the ARMA 2017 conference? Feeling impact’y? Welcome!

If you’re heading to the ARMA conference for the first time…..welcome!!

The ARMA conference is the headline act for a busy annual programme of activity. The conference has grown substantially in recent years and offers a real showcase for the excellent work happening in the research management community. It’s also a fantastic opportunity to meet peers, share best practice and connect into sector wide activities. 

If you’re not already aware, there are a number of special interest groups (or SIGs) within ARMA. Each of the SIGs offer a space to share learning, update knowledge, ask questions and generally find support in a particular topic area. Each group will also have a timetabled session at the conference. The list of the current SIGs can be found here, and to join, just logon to the ARMA website and follow the instructions from SIG page. But let’s turn to my favourite…..

The Impact SIG is a group of like-minded (or sometimes disruptively minded – you know who you are….) people interested in all things ‘impact’. The SIG is led my Lizzie Garcha and myself, and we represent the impact community within ARMA. We also sit on the training committee so we can connect impact community ‘need’ with formal training provision. Our Impact SIG session at conference will provide delegates with an opportunity to join (or reconnect with) the community, network with those in similar roles, and discuss current issues in research impact. Please do come along, all are welcome!)
If you’d like to chat beforehand about the conference, ensure you have a familiar face to connect with or generally want to make best use of the event, please get in touch. There’s talk of SIG leads being rather more visible at conference (probably with fancier badges rather than neon tshirts), but whether we’re in sparkly hats or hiding out like ninjas, we’re very happy to chat. The chances are (*history suggests*) I’ll be on twitter before, during and after the event and very happy to answer any poignant or stupid questions. Likelihood is I’ll be asking the latter myself. We’re also keen to know if there’s anything people would particularly like to discuss/cover in the session – please let us know via email or using the comments box below if there is. 

So if you’re feeling impact’y and conference’y, get in touch, get involved and get connected. See you there!

Building an impact literate research culture: some thoughts for the KT Australia Research Summit

I was delighted to be asked to speak at the KT Australia Research Impact Summit (November 2016). In my talk, I discussed many of the challenges of introducing an impact agenda into the academic community, and how impact literacy can help. An extended version of my slides are here, but let me talk through the key points below.

Consider impact. A small word. A simple, standard part of our vocabulary meaning influence or effect. But go from (small i) impact to (big I) Impact, and you’ve suddenly entered the domain of formal assessment and causal expectations. Arguably the UK have been the first to really take the Impact bull formally by the horns through the Research Excellence Framework 2014, but of course efforts to drive research into usable practice are far from unique to this little island. Whilst every country is rich with learning about how knowledge best mobilises within its own context, the UK probably offers a unique insight into the realities of impact assessment at scale and the multiple, non-prescribable pathways connecting research to effect.

First principles: impact is the provable effects of research in the real world (see slides 2 and 3).  It’s the changes we can see (demonstrate, measure, capture), beyond academia (in society, economy, environment) which happen because of our studies (caused by, contributed to, attributable to). Dissemination, communication, engagement, knowledge transfer, knowledge exchange and knowledge mobilisation are all vital in getting research into practice, but in its truest form, ‘impact’ is the protected description of the resulting change.

Largely speaking, impact has three main drivers (slide 4): funders (who increasingly require impact plans for research to be judged competitively), centralised assessment (eg the Research Excellence Framework, UK) and the individual academic’s commitment to social, economic or environmental change. Formal sector expectations such as the REF are a double edged sword. On one side they legitimate engagement and outreach activities which can be disregarded in income/publication focused environments.  On the other however,  they can confer unrealistic expectations on those disciplinary areas (eg. fundamental research)  whose work does not naturally connect directly to ‘real world change’.  Even where academics are personally committed to impact, the weight of complying with assessment rhetoric can corrode even the most impassioned resolve.

Impact offers challenges to academics and the institution alike (slide 5). For the academic, weaving impact into already pressured environments can be exhausting, and the unease of meeting expectations for impacts that are ‘significant’ enough for external assessment can trigger anxiety and anger. For the institution, staffing, resourcing and embedding impact within existing structures whilst ensuring assessment requirements are met is extremely tough.  Similarly we must remember and address the challenges for the beneficiaries themselves. The ‘users’ of our work are concerned with how well the research fits their needs, and how accessible and useful it is.  Unless work is appropriate and suitable for the audience, it’s unlikely to achieve its impact aims and will just introduce more burden into the user community.

So how can we do impact well? After several years in impact I’ve enjoyed/ burned my fingers on a considerable volume of training, planning/strategy building, designing information management systems and building impact into a university culture,  alongside academic research in the area and (health psychology) research submitted to REF. It’s hard to disentangle the discrete elements of the impact process, which probably explains why I’ve had my fingers in quite so many pies.  I have discussed the challenges still facing the impact community before, and how a reductionist, assessment driven approach can lead to impact short-sightedness.  However, academics have an amazing and very privileged opportunity to make a genuine and meaningful difference to the ‘real world’. For this, the research community needs to understand how to make impact happen. The research community needs to be impact literate.

Impact literacy (slide 6, a term coined by myself and Dr David Phipps, York University, Toronto) describes individuals‚Äô ability to understand, appraise and make decisions with regards to impact.  Impact literacy involves understanding how the what (type, indicators and evidence of benefit),  how (activities and engagement processes) and who (individuals’ skills and roles) of impact combine to produce effects.  Impact literacy supports good decision making, clear planning and realistic methodologies.  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 targets. A person is only literate if they understand each of the three areas. If one is missing, thinking is incomplete:

  • How + Who (without What) gives poor consideration to endpoints/effects
  • How + What (without Who) neglects the importance of individual efforts and skills
  • Who + What (without How) overlooks the need for appropriate engagement methods

We can and should also extend literacy beyond the individual and build an impact literate research culture (slide 7). With all the challenges to delivering impact within a pressured academic environment, it’s essential that institutions align their internal structures to supporting delivery. Bluntly put, you can only measure what you create, so start working together from the start.  Academics need to build partnerships and translate research into suitable formats, whilst the institution values, resources and builds strategic connections beyond the institution (‘How’). Academics and research managers also need to recognise their own skills/training needs, and share/partner with others, whilst the institution must commit to professional development and clarifying roles (‘Who’). Academics must work with end-users to establish suitable goals and ways to measure them, whilst the institution must offer the strategic and systems support to manage this information (‘What’).

The process of building a positive and impact-literate culture is of course beyond the scope of one talk. It is an ongoing process and takes continued strategic and individual commitment.  But if we really want impact, and good impact at that, we must focus on improving the knowledge, skills and confidence of academics and research managers across the institution. An impact literate culture is one in which people know what’s needed and how they contribute. A positive culture is one in which they know that contribution is valued.

So if you’re trying to build impact into your institution, my top tips would be (slide 8):

  1. Embed impact into the research process. If you’re going to create real benefits, impact has to be integrated from the start and not treated as a post-project add-on.
  2. Recognise one size doesn’t fit all.  Impact cannot be templated. It is always unique to the project, discipline and it’s place along the fundamental-to-applied continuum. Tailor your thinking.
  3. Harness and build skills within the institution. Create your ‘impact agency’ by  developing impact literacy,  competencies and connections between colleagues.
  4. Engage not enrage. Impact is a small word with big implications. Give people time to adjust and build a strong approach together.

Remember (slide 9): Impact is achievable. But it’s not simple. Value the people involved and their efforts, support the processes and connect researchers, users and research meaningfully. Just imagine what’s possible if you do ūüôā

Life, the universe and impact: notes from the ARMA Impact SIG

Life, the universe and impact: notes from the ARMA Impact SIG

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).

Strengthening impact through people. Or ‘Why REF is like your mother in law’

It’s clear that impact is growing swiftly within international research agendas.¬† I’ve had many discussions recently with colleagues across various ponds for whom the dark cloud of impact is looming. Many seem to be looking to the UK to learn from our REF experience, and to be frank that’s not a bad idea at all.¬† Where impact is concerned it’s fair to say the UK is both specialised and battle-worn in equal measure. Unlike many of our international peers, our sector has been driven by centralised impact assessment, rather than broader dialogues of ‘benefits’ and ‘knowledge mobilisation’.¬† It is an approach with pros and cons, many of which we’re still unpicking.¬† Certainly the wonderfully engaged discussion at the recent ARMA Impact Special Interest Group (SIG) meeting at the annual conference shows just how much we still need to do to integrate, normalise and support impact in its most meaningful terms.

Impact for many of us is a good thing.¬† We welcome the focus on positively influencing the world beyond the university walls, and let’s face it, this in itself is not a new agenda.¬† For applied researchers (myself very much included), we have always sought to qualitatively contribute¬†solutions to¬†social problems.¬†¬†However the more formal assessment driven (REF) impact agenda shifts¬†such virtuous rhetoric towards reductionism and selectivity. REF is a bit like your mother in law who manages to completely overlook the 6 hours of cleaning you’ve done and focus instead on the speck of dust you’ve left behind the TV.¬†It’s a one-off assessment which ignores¬†how frantically you’ve cooked, ironed, and incentivised-your-children-to-behave-less-like-chimps. And like REF, usually results in a large glass of wine.

I don’t say this to dismiss REF.¬† If anything, REF has accelerated the importance of impact within academia and for that I am thankful.¬† With the puerile analogy above aside, I strongly¬†urge¬†those for whom impact is emerging to really take time to consider how impact ‘works’.¬†¬†A formal impact agenda raises challenges across the academic sector, arguably posing most difficulties for fundamental research and that with less easily measurable endpoints (eg. arts and humanities).¬† Assessment-driven approaches risk reducing¬†impact value to a small subset of narrowly demonstrated effects.¬† Unless we approach impact literately* and meaningfully,¬†we¬†will only ever firefight¬†paths towards¬†social effects.

In all of this, it’s crucial too that we don’t¬†ignore the people.¬† Obviously¬†it’s vital that we¬†engage stakeholders¬†and consider wider public benefit, and there’s excellent thought-leadership in these areas.¬†However¬†here I’m referring to a different group – impact practitioners themselves, be they the academic driving their own work or a research manager supporting a broader programme of work.¬† The impact sector has grown rapidly¬†within the UK, and – as demonstrated through the wealth of experience and expertise in the ARMA Impact¬†SIG – the sector would be foolish not to recognise the skills and capabilities so fundamental to translating research into effects.

Reducing impact to a measured subset of effects obscures the¬†expertise needed for knowledge brokerage, culture change, partnership management, strategic planning and¬†reconfiguration and many other things in combination. ¬†If we are to¬†create ‘good impact’ we need to¬†recognise and invest in professional development amongst all those supporting this agenda.¬† And avoid bolting impact on as an afterthought. And understand how assessment models may drive behaviour. And how this may be¬†judged by a Mother-in-Law-dust-seeking review**.

Let’s make the research count.¬† Properly.

*Impact literacy paper to come with the brilliant Dr David Phipps!! (@Researchimpact)

**My mother in law likes me. At least she hasn’t said otherwise




Dear predatory journal….

I am sick of predatory journals. I’m sick of them emailing me with invites to submit to their ‘doesn’t at all fit the research I do’ remit, and even worse doing so with mixed fonts…..

I’m most sick though of two things:

Firstly, the money they fraudulently obtain by trading off the academic pressure to ‘publish or perish’. These pariahs are quite happy to steal money from tight research budgets and hang often new researchers out to dry.

Secondly, the way they magic-up an editorial board using the images and names of real people. Real professionals who’ve worked hard to build their reputation. This case from Coventry shows how easy it is for good people to suddenly find their good name has been used to legitimise fakery.

Apart from not submitting to these journals, it’s hard to practically challenge the first point. But we must train our academic communities to be alert and recognise the signs. Keep em peeled (as an 80s UK crime show used to say)

On the second point – my new policy when I’m invited by Predatorosaur is to check the editorial board and contact those listed. Sure some are also likely fake, but if you were a real academic and your name and face were used, wouldn’t you want someone to alert you???

I’ve been chased by a particular Predatorosaur over the last few weeks. And let’s say they were getting a teensy bit double glazing salesman about the whole thing. I fully expected them to turn up at my door with a brochure and an unwillingness to leave. So I decided to go all Poirot….long story short you will be unsurprised to know that the listed senior editor (a medical professor in America) had never heard of them. *shock*. She is now taking steps to have her name removed and I’m contacting the other authors asap.

Friends, Romans, countrymen…..when you too get a fake journal email, consider letting the people whose faces have been stolen know. I know I’d appreciate it. Bet you would too.

And if you’re interested, here’s my reply to Predatorosaur.

Don’t believe the hype

Sure, they sound glamorous……. exotic…..the stuff of dreams, but don’t believe everything you read.

Blood clots are really not fun.

I have been sideswiped, yet again, with a DVT. In a slightly hoarding way this is now my fourth and whilst I love to play thrombosis bingo the game is now quite boring.

However I’m not posting because I want to complain. Actually this is probably the easiest of the DVTs as this time I can (a) hobble, albeit like a pirate and (b) don’t have a newborn. This, weirdly feels like a win.

There’s been a few undignified moments, sure – I’ve lost count of the number of random people who’ve prodded, poked, measured, injected, scanned or otherwise looked quizzically at me. I hope some were even medical professionals otherwise that’s a whole other website right there. There’s been times I’ve had to argue the personal and comparative merits of different brands of surgical stockings. And a rather memorable occasion comforting a terrified student midwife who thought my blood thinning bruising was from domestic abuse. Some will know my ‘clinical path’ hasn’t been the most straightforward (*ahem*) but I continue to limp another day.

This post is because I mostly want to say this:

Thankyou to you amazing NHS people who do a damn hard and thankless task of looking after random poorly people like me. I have no idea how you put up with the constant and relentless pace of patient care, moving targets and budget cuts (*doffs imaginary cap*)

I’m off for an evening of sofa-flaking and anticoagulation. ¬†Don’t be too jealous. We can’t all have rock and roll lives.

Ahoy me hearties. Aaaaaar.

So long and thanks for all the (impact) fish….

So, my secondment has come to an end (*sobs*).¬†For those who don’t know, for the last couple of years I’ve been working in central support to help impact across the university.¬† Amongst many things this has¬†involved designing and delivering training, supporting funding bids, analysing REF submissions and a shed load of talks across the sector.¬† Quite frankly many of you will be sick of the sound of my voice and over-exuberant wavy-hand presentations.¬† Others will be sick of my diagramming and¬†emphatic flowcharting, done whilst muttering things about¬†stakeholders and gatekeeping. Hopefully a select few have felt these inputs were useful rather than head-exploding.

Thing is, I haven’t quite gone. As I head back more fully into academia,¬†I take with me all I’ve learnt about impact and knowledge mobilisation and all the wonderful connections I’ve made across the sector. I suspect my neat and tidy health psychologist career may be now less neat and tidy (some would say it never was).¬†¬†There’s undoubtedly a huge wealth of impact as yet unexplored in research terms. And I don’t just mean understanding REF case studies, but really understanding how impact is created, how academics can be supported to make their work ‘impactful’, and how to overhaul simplistic models of impact which are so unhelpful for¬†a range of disciplines.¬† Watch this space for currently-in-progress outputs on¬†impact literacy and¬†knowledge mobilisation competencies (shout out here for the amazing David Phipps *holler*).¬† And ARMA hasn’t got rid of me. Yet.

Thanks to everyone who’s made the last couple of years so enjoyable.¬†I hope to see you around / collaborate / co-author / co-bid / co-present / co-caffeinate / co-Victoria sponge…..

Julie (The artist formerly known as Coventry University Impact Officer)