Measuring ‘impact’ – 3 up-front questions
By Jenni Metcalfe
‘To have a strong and often bad effect on (something or someone)’ or ‘to hit (something) with great force’ is how the Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the word ‘impact’.
I’m pretty sure this is not what governments and research agencies mean when they say that research needs to have a greater impact.
I suspect they are suggesting that research, and communication of that research, needs to make a difference to someone, in some way, if it is to have value.
An impact crater. Credit: NASA
What stimulated me to think about this whole idea of ‘impact’ (my new least favourite word) was a recent talk by QUT Professor Axel Bruns, entitled: ‘Amplifying impact: developing indicators of public value in public communication’.
Speaking at the Cooperative Research Centres Association’s conference, Prof. Bruns talked about measuring the impact of research beyond publications and citations by looking at the “amplifying effects” of using devices such as the media, social media, and online publications such as The Conversation.
I found his talk interesting and thought-provoking, and I asked him: Who do you want to impact and why?
It’s a question that researchers and communicators need to ask right at the start of a research project. Not after they have published their research in a peer-reviewed journal where, perhaps, only 10 people will read the journal article in its entirety. And not at the end of their research when someone (usually a funder) asks what legacy has been left or what impact has been made.
The only way you’ll be able to measure your ‘impact’, or difference, is to ask these 3 questions right at the start of your research:
- Whom do you want to make a difference for? Farmers? Policymakers?
- Why do you want to make that difference for these people? What are your objectives for them?
- How will you know you have made that difference? What are the indicators? How will you measure them, starting right now?
Answer these questions and you’ll know right from the start of your research whom you want to ‘hit with great force’, and why, to make that ‘impact’.