Impact in research funding applications
Research impact is becoming increasingly important to research funders. Many now require applications to address potential non-academic impact within their research proposals.
There are also various funding schemes to support impact activities, including public engagement.
Funder specific information
Funder approaches to impact vary. The tabs below contain information and guidance about the impact requirements for some important humanities funders.
See further information on preparing a proposal and the support offered by the HRC research support team.
For all funders
Things to consider which may help when thinking about impact in any funding application:
- Stakeholders - who might be interested and why?
- Networks - who do you already know? Who does your department or research group already work with?
- Partnerships - can you involve non-academic partners in planning the project? Leave time for this: making arrangements with external partners can be a lengthy process.
- Use your advisory board - inviting non-academic partners to sit on a project advisory board can be a good way to identify emerging potential for impact during a project.
- Project management - who will do what when? Include timelines and milestones.
- Project support - consider a Project Co-ordinator role (essential on large projects) to organise impact activities and evaluation.
- Evaluation - include plans to evaluate impact activities where appropriate. Factor in administration to support this if needed.
- Budget - factor in reasonable costs for impact activities, including staff time and evaluation. Include these costs within your grant application.
UKRI (inc. AHRC)
UKRI encompasses the UK Research Councils. All the Research Councils (including the AHRC and ESRC) require applicants to outline the potential non-academic impact of their project.
There are no longer separate sections in the UKRI application to address impact (former Impact Summary and Pathways to Impact were removed from March 2020). Instead, all councils require impact to be considered as part and parcel of the main research application, and woven into the application at appropriate points.
The principle secctions where you are required to consider the non-academic impact (wider social, cultural and economic impact) of your research are in the Summary and the Case for Support. However, the AHRC Research Funding Guide makes clear: "Proposals must clearly demonstrate throughout how the potential impacts of the research within and beyond academia (as outlined in the Summary) will be realised" (p.12).
The summary of your project now incorporates impact. This means that there is less space available to summarise your impact (as the 4000-character limit has not changed), but you are still expected to indicate here:
Who might benefit from your research?
How might they benefit?
This is not the place to write in detail about your plans for reaching these groups, but to summarise who might be interested in your research or benefit from it, and what you hope that that benefit will be. You will need to consider:
- Which people or groups beyond academia are likely to be interested in or benefit from the research, directly or indirectly.
- How these groups stand to benefit.
- Consider engaging with potentially interested groups well before submitting an application. This will allow you to describe with more certainty how and why the project will be of interest to them.
- Do not include confidential information as the summary will be in the public domain.
- Reviewers understand what is reasonable for the research proposed. You need not make grand claims about your hoped-for impact; much better to describe targeted potential impacts that are appropriate to the proposed research.
Case for Support
Within the Case for Support (attachment), you will need to demonstrate your commitment to maximising the non-academic impact of your research proposal; this should include details of how you plan to include/reach your non-academic partners/beneficiaries. Try to answer this question:
What will you do to ensure that potential beneficiaries have the opportunity to engage with your research?
The length of the Case for Support attachment was not increased when the Pathways to Impact document was removed in March 2020. You will have to integrate impact with the other elements of this section in the space available (7 sides of A4 for most AHRC Grants; 4 sides of A4 for an AHRC Research Networking Grant; 6 sides of A4 for ESRC Grants).
The AHRC Case for Support includes a heading "Outputs, Dissemination and Impact" where your main description of your impact-generating activities should fall; however, impact may also be referred to in other sections, where appropriate. The ESRC has no such separate heading, so impact must be integrated into the Case for Support narrative, although exactly how you do this will depend on the needs of your project.
Things to consider:
- Potential beneficiaries and routes to impact will be different for each project; there is no standard template for the content or structure.
- In some proposals, the nature of the research and/or involvement of non-academic partners from the outset may make it easier to integrate impact fully into the description of the research. In others, impact will feel a little more separate from your key resesarch questions and objectives. There is no single "right way" to build impact into your case for support, but assessors will want to see that you have explored possible angles for non-academic impact and tried to build in avenues for impact in an integrated way where possible.
- Can you engage potential beneficiaries before submitting the application to gauge interest or co-design the proposal? Is there potential to include a non-academic partner? Or to include non-academic members on a project advisory board?
- The key is to describe activities that are tailored and specific to the proposed research, and appropriate and relevant for its potential beneficiaries.
- Be as specific as possible; avoid generalisations.
- You may (and should!) request appropriate funding for your impact-generating activities, and you should consider the resource, including time, required for these: don't assume they will be quick and easy! You could consider a Project Co-ordinator role (essential on large projects) to organise impact activities and evaluation
- Where appropriate, discuss how activities will be planned to ensure a two way process of knowledge exchange (rather than just dissemination).
- If possible mention how you intend to evaluate and gather evidence of impact.
AHRC impact guidance and the ESRC impact toolkit.
The AHRC Research Funding Guide also includes some information on incorporating impact within your case for support at pp.74-75, and on how impact is assessed at p.80
Independent website FastTrackImpact also has guidance on how to incorporate impact into your Case for Support (relevant to all Research Councils).
The AHRC's bespoke impact scheme is "Follow-on-Funding". Note that this is only available if you have already had an AHRC grant for a research project, and your application for follow-on-funding should relate to that funded resesarch project.
Funding (up to £100,000) is available through this scheme for knolwedge exchange, public engagement and other dissemination activities that are designed to lead to impact.
- is available to the PI (and occasionally a Co-I) of a successful previous/existing AHRC grant of most types
- may not be used for new or further research, even if it relates to that undertaken in your previous project
- may not be used for impact activities that were already planned and included in the original grant application
- is normally granted where new opportunities and avenues for impact have opened up since the original project was awarded and/or which could not be incorporated into that previous project application
- is most likely to be granted where a genuine need from a non-academic organisation or sector is demonstrated
- may be used for a wide range of knowledge exchange and engagement activities, but is not primarily intended to buy out PI time
The AHRC Research Funding Guide (section 1.8, pp. 37-44) contains details of the Follow-on-Funding scheme and how to apply.
The Wellcome Trust fund research in the humanities and social sciences that addresses any aspect of human or animal health.
The trust has less of an emphasis on 'impact' as understood in an RCUK sense. However, the Trust has a strong interest in public engagement with research.
Public engagement funding
The Wellcome trust provide funding for public engagement activities within their research grants through a dedicated Provision for Public Engagement.
Applicants to a range of Wellcome Trust schemes can apply for dedicated funds to support their public engagement plans. Details of which schemes are eligible are included in their guidance notes.
For more information on the Wellcome Trust's approach to public engagement see their public engagement in research grants webpages and their notes on applying for a Provision for Public Engagement within a research grant.
The guidance notes provide useful information on approaches to public engagement which may be of interest to people planning engagement activities more generally.
HERA (not current)
Humanities in the European Research Area (HERA)
Note that there are no HERA funding opportunities currently open
HERA sees plans for knowledge exchange and impact as a crucial dimension to any research project. Previously funded HERA projects have tended to include non-academic partners.
See further information on HERA's understanding of impact.
HERA application requirements
HERA runs a two-stage process: outline and full application. Only proposals which have been successful in the outline stage are invited to submit a full application.
Applicants submit a short description of the project (maximum 2000 words). This covers all aspects of the proposed project (not just impact).
As part of the outline, applicants should address the following two impact-related questions:
- What is the potential impact of the proposed research to both academic disciplines, and relevant stakeholders and user communities?
- How will the project engage in knowledge exchange or active dissemination engaging user communities and audiences outside academia?
This can only be very brief given space limitations. If successful at this stage, the full proposal requires much more extensive information on impact, and has tight turnaround times. It is therefore important to plan impact activities at an early stage.
Full proposal stage
Full proposals are by invitation only, following success in the outline stage.
HERA full proposals involve a section called ‘Knowledge exchange and impact’.
This 5 page max document should address the following:
- Relevance to the Call for Proposals
- Expected relevance of the project outcomes and its potential value for users, both academic and non-academic.
- Description of the involvement and contributions of non-academic Associated Partners (if applicable)
- Planned activities and measures to maximise knowledge exchange and transfer, and the dissemination and/or exploitation of project results to academic and non-academic users, and management of intellectual property
NB ‘Relevance to the call for proposals’ is part of this section – this differs somewhat from other funders.
The assessment criteria for this section are:
- Relevance to the call for proposals
- Extent to which research outcomes are likely to be of value for non-academic stakeholders and user communities
- Appropriateness of measures for the dissemination and/or exploitation of project results, and management of intellectual property
NB The application can address potential value for academic users, but the assessment criteria focus on non-academic stakeholders.
HERA impact definitions
HERA has not published its own definition of impact. HERA guidance from the 2015 'Uses of the past' call includes the following on 'Knowledge exchange and transfer':
Knowledge exchange and transfer activities are a crucial dimension to any proposed research project. In addition to the networking that takes place among academic partners and broader dissemination activities aimed at wider academic audiences, projects are also expected to develop links with stakeholders outside the academy in order to maximise the societal benefit of the research. For example, collaborations may include the creative, cultural and heritage sectors, broadcasters, museums, galleries, business, industry, the public sector, voluntary, community and charitable organisations, policy makers and practitioners (e.g. in the creative and performing arts). Collaborations should be meaningful for all partners involved and enable joint learning throughout the duration of the project and beyond. Public engagement activities may also be included, where appropriate, to promote a wide understanding of the nature and impact of “uses of the past.”
Proposals should therefore include concrete plans for collaboration and knowledge exchange, demonstrating how these activities will add significant value to the research. Active inclusion of non-academic partners from the preparation phase of the project is encouraged.
Behind the definitions
All applicants to HERA are strongly encouraged to listen to this clip of Prof. Sean Ryder talking about HERA's perspective on impact or to read the notes which summarise his comments: The HERA perspective on impact (MS Word , 24kb).
Some key points to note:
- HERA has a broad understanding of impact. They include within it ideas of knowledge exchange, knowledge transfer, engagement and collaborations
- HERA is interested in the methodology of impact. They recognize that establishing best impact practice is a real and useful outcome of attempting to encourage it.
If you would like to know more about HERA's view on impact you might find it useful to listen to this clip of Prof. Sean Ryder talking about HERA's perspective on impact. Or for an overview take a look at these notes summarising his comments: The HERA perspective on impact (MS Word , 24kb).
Funding for impact activities
Many funders encourage applicants to plan impact activities as part of their initial research proposal. Opportunities for impact, however, often arise outside funded projects, or after their completion.
There is a small, but growing, number of schemes which fund activities to generate impact from research. All the research councils have some form of impact specific scheme to support additional impact from research they have already funded.
For further information, please see the University's research impact funding opportunities pages.
All staff in the arts and humanities developing funding application are encouraged to contact the research support team in the HRC who can advise on the most up-to-date impact requirements.
Faculty Impact Manager
Faculty Impact Manager
Faculty Impact Administrator