Whether you are working on the draft of your Pathways to Impact statement, planning on your next REF submission, or reporting back to third sector funding organisations, you need to think about how to measure the impact that your work has on the world around you.
Measuring impact means preparing some means of reporting on the social, economic, or environmental returns that have been programmed into the research/practice or happened as a consequence of the research/practice.
Reporting on impact requires three essential steps:
- Setting out your impact objectives
- Developing your theory of change
- Collecting evidence strategically
In order to report on these returns, you need to make use of a an impact measurement tool, which enables assessment of change according to set indicators.
So, as there are a number of tools available, which one do you choose?
The tool that you use will reflect the type of impact that your work has on the world around you. The tool will be dependent on the audience for whom you are preparing your report and the beneficiaries of the impact that your work has had.
According to New Philanthropy Capital’s report Inspiring impact there are over 1,000 different methods available. There also appears to be general consensus amongst funders that there is a shortage of low-cost, ‘off the shelf’ tools and systems.
(“An Introduction to Impact Measurement,” Big Lottery Fund UK)
The ESRC recommend two different tools in their Impact Toolkit:
- KAB (knowledge, attitude, and behaviour) model
- Relies on knowledge as the genesis to change
- Kirkpatrick’s evaluation model
- Great for assessing the impact of training programmes
Choosing the appropriate impact measurement tool relies on a sound understanding of a project or programme’s objectives:
- The Outcomes Star is a good resource for project’s aiming to improve the lives of vulnerable groups
- Community Impact Mapping is useful in tracking changes to communities
- The Social Return on Investment helps to quantify a project’s benefits
Please look at the Impact Measurement Tools page for a more comprehensive list of tools available!
In addition to measurement tools, it’s important to think about the shape that you want your impact to take. Where will you focus your attention? How will the research translate to impact? What does a map of your impact strategy look like?
If you are interested in effecting change in policy, you might be interested in Julia Coffman and Tanya Beer’s “Advocacy Strategy Framework,” which is a helpful tool for constructing the impact of a project and positioning it on an axis aligning desired change with intended audience.
For those of you engaged in impact on practice, there is Laura R Meaghe’s “Research Impact on Practice: Case Study Analysis,” which offers some advice on evaluating and enhancing impact on practice.
Maybe you’re more interested in “Mapping Alternative Impact,” whereby you enter into impact from co-produced research and feel that other models don’t suit your project.
In the report on “The Societal and Economic Impact of Academic Research,” Laura Fedorciow and Bokani Tshidzu from Vertigo Ventures recommend the Kellog Model for impact planning. They claim that
its logical pathway from inputs through outputs, activities and outcomes as a useful way to distinguish impact from outputs and the activities that lead to impact, such as public engagement.
Whatever tools you choose for mapping and measuring impact, make sure that they work for you. If you find yourself working too hard to fit a project into a mold then reevaluate the tools that you’re using. These tools are an attempt to evaluate social, economic, or environmental benefit, and this is no easy task. However, these tools also make the sometimes confusing world of impact easier to understand and qualify, and this is what makes them indispensable.