Impact Basics 2 - Writing an impact narrative

  • Area: Other
  • Area: Other
Telling the story of your research can help you connect to your stakeholders, potential partners and end-users. And of course, when you write your funding proposal, a good narrative on how your research project is impactful will give you better chances to be understood by your reviewers.

Retrospective and intended impact narratives

Researchers will more and more be advised to provide or write an impact case or narrative. In the Netherlands we need impact narratives for the Strategic Evaluation Process (SEP), in the UK they use impact narratives in the Reference Evaluation Framework (REF). For evaluation processes (like SEP and REF), you tell your impact narrative retrospectively: you showcase the impact that your research already had. For funding proposals or for explaining the potential impact of your research to various stakeholders, you have to describe your intended impact. Both retrospective and intended impact narratives can have the same set-up though.

A good story starts with showing relevance

Why do you tell this story? What current issue does it address? What kind of impact do you hope to have, eventually, in solving this issue? And who will benefit? (describe the overall impact)

Example: The Millennium Cohort Study (MCS) has influenced health policy and practice at local, national and international levels. Breastfeeding research based on MCS data has made a particularly important contribution to health education, and important insights have been provided on immunisation and obesity (the why and what). (…) The MCS has not only created an invaluable resource for researchers in the UK and other countries, it has also served as a model for other cohort studies (who benefits) (source: REF case studies database)

Explain how you aim to get your intended impact

Be careful, your impact narrative shouldn’t be a car sale. You should logically explain how you aim to get or how you did get to your (intended) impact. So what did you develop or create to get to your impact? Here, you have to describe your outputs and outcomes: What has been developed or created and do you have demonstrable evidence of the change that occurred or could occur?

Example:  (…) A subsequent analysis of this data by researchers at University X showed that breastfeeding protects against hospitalisation for diarrhea and lowers respiratory tract infection. This follow-up study of 15,890 full-term MCS babies estimated that if all UK infants were exclusively breastfed, the number hospitalised each month with diarrhoea would be halved, while respiratory infections admissions would be cut by a quarter (reference).

Need some inspiration? You can browse impact case studies per topic at the Reference Evaluation Framework homepage.