3. The Strategic Background
The Research Councils of the UK are currently asking people to include 'pathways to impact' in their research applications. The jury is out as to what form these will take but it is a reasonably safe assumption that something along these lines will be around for some time. When we consider the guidelines currently issued it is clear that the funding bodies are looking for suggestions as to how the project will be of benefit to other researchers (e.g. academic impact) and to the public and the economy (e.g. public or wider impact) in advance of funding being awarded.
By studying the various guides issued by the RCs some common themes emerge. To begin with, it is suggested that any project should clearly state who will benefit and how. This could be either other academic(s)/researchers, the general public (including other education sectors extending to lifelong learning), businesses, or a combination of all of these. Commonly the types of benefits listed include (in no particular order):
- improving skills
- assisting the economy, e.g. improving the competitiveness of SMEs
- contributing to key social concerns, e.g. healthcare, reskilling the workforce,
- promoting multiculturalism, inclusivity, tackling social exclusion, etc
- informing the debate around a particular issue
- increasing knowledge in the discipline, including public understanding
- engaging and building communities
- showing efficiencies
- increasing creativity
- increasing cross-disciplinary activities and collaboration between disciplines, academia and the public and private sectors, etc
- opening access to research results/data
- making it possible to reuse and sharing material
Again, considering a range of sample submissions to date, all the above will appear in some form or other for all subject areas, and will often be tied to specific activities of relevance to the discipline. However, in many cases, the same activities are listed again and again but in a very limited way, e.g. create a website, run a public lecture, run a conference, publish an article or monograph, etc. Many of these are based on traditional and long-standing dissemination methods, which may be appropriate, but could at the very least be supplemented and enhanced by using IT.