In recent years ‘research impact’ (the benefit that research has on society and the economy) has become a buzz phrase closely associated with the production of case studies for internal and external assessment purposes, such as the Research Excellence Framework in the UK. Traditionally, impact has been framed as a final ‘add on’ to a research project, but the work that the University of Reading’s Impact Team and Routledge, Taylor & Francis have been doing explores a much more engaged and agile approach to research, publishing and impact.

Online workshops

On 28th January 2021, Routledge and the University of Reading’s Impact Team hosted two online workshops exploring this alternative approach to publishing and impact with early career stage academics from across the arts and humanities.

Following a call for expressions of interest, we received 250 applications from researchers across the globe. Respondents were an almost equal split of PhD researchers and Early Career Researchers (those within 10 years of completing their doctoral studies) representing a wide variety of arts and humanities subjects. What was common across all respondents was a relatively low level of confidence around impact, which highlighted an awareness of the issue and a desire to do something about it.

In order to organize the workshops into two manageable working groups candidates were chosen based on their career stage (PhD or ECR) and the type of external partner they were hoping to work with. For the purpose of these workshops, we chose to focus on researchers interested in engaging with the galleries, libraries, archives and museums sector, the education sector and policy makers. Using these criteria we invited 20 PhD students and 20 ECRs to join the workshops.

The ‘messy’ model

The workshops started by exploring the impact and publishing pathways that are currently available. The first model we discussed was the traditional linear model of research – publication – engagement activity – impact. The second model we discussed was much more organic and ‘messy’, engaging the audiences and end-users that the researchers wanted to work with at the very start of their research process. This alternative approach focussed on the use of problem statements which require researchers to investigate the real-world issues faced by their external stakeholders and how their research can help them to overcome these.

After introducing these concepts, the researchers were put into virtual break out rooms where we held facilitated discussions to get them thinking about how their work would fit into these two models. One of the main takeaways for participants was for them to consider how the engaged research model could work for them by identifying their own problem statement. This part of the workshop was particularly successful as the groups were able to think about their research from a variety of different perspectives and identify how their research could help a non-academic audience or end-user.

Early career researcher learning program

The program contains everything you need to know to get your research published in an academic journal and to build your profile as a researcher. You’ll also develop the key skills and knowledge you need to prepare for the next steps in your research career, from communication to presentation, to networking and more. Learn more about our program for early-career researchers.

Next steps

The University of Reading’s Impact Team and Routledge are now looking to explore the intersection between engaged research, publishing and impact further and will be holding a number of workshops and focus groups during the coming months.