The case studies are split into four categories: ‘policy’,‘business’, ‘public engagement’ and ‘voluntary and charitable’. Some appear in more than one category. RCUK had a huge pool of projects to choose from for their fourteen examples. The Research Councils give out grants for some 2,500 projects each year.As such, you would expect them to be spectacular examples of their kind, but I wasn't convinced.
Unsurprisingly, the business-related ones have the clearest impact and it is easy to make the case with these: licensing agreements, patents, and new technology with applications that will benefit society. All good. Things become a bit less clear in the other three categories which, to my mind, are somewhat weaker. Or rather, I think it’s very difficult to make the case. Many talk about ‘stakeholder engagement’, which of course is good, and of feeding into the development of policies and working practices. Which is also good. Others talk about their tweets and blogs, their public lectures and even their jazz compositions. Okay, so I know it's very hard to try and quantify the effect that these activities have had, but I would have thought that RCUK might have been able to provide more hard evidence as to the effect their funded research is having on society.
Nevertheless, I think the positive that potential applicants should take from this is that expectations are low and broad. If you can demonstrate that you are able and willing to engage with end users, to talk to school children and put on public events, then you will easily have met the expectations of your future paymasters. And, you never know, with your conceptual art spin-offs and children’s books sub-projects, you could well be up there on the RCUK website in years to come.