‘Social and Economic Impact’ has become a key factor in funding research. Applicants to the Research Councils now have to explain the wider impact of their research, and Hefce has announced its intention to consider impact as part of the forthcoming Ref (see post, below).
However, this does not mean that you should change the research you do. Instead, you should think about how your research affects the wider world. So, when working on Research Council applications, bear in mind four points:
Think broadly about the potential effects of your research: ‘impact’ can include cultural, economic, health, social, environmental, and legal effects of your research.
Think about your research from a more general perspective: what the Councils are really looking for are potential ‘case studies’ or ‘stories’ that can be used by them to justify their funding to government and the public.
Think about the long term impact of your research: The Research Councils recognise that it sometimes takes a long time for a project to have impact (an MRC/Wellcome study suggested that the average time lag is 17 years).
Finally, what the Councils really want is reassurance that you have applied ‘due diligence’ to considering the ‘Impact’ of your research. Your Impact Plan should demonstrate this.