Supporting Impact

By Professor Linda McKie, BSA Public Engagement Director

Impact, or how our research changes policies and practices, including activities to stop or challenge activities and services as a result of our research, has come to the fore in the last decade. The introduction of impact case studies in REF 2014 parachuted this work into many of our worlds. In REF 2021 impact work will constitute 25% of the assessment elements.

Sociologists have been working on impact for some time. For example, 2018 marks the bicentenary of the birth of Marx and his work, along with that of Engels, has generated a vast array of debates, analyses and adaptations to policies and practices. The very nature of sociology encourages working with people, groups, policy makers and organisations to promote the relevance and application of our ideas and research findings.

In recent years debates on evidence and evidence informed policies and services have generated books, briefing papers and prizes. These are generally welcome developments, offering much more in the way of resources to assist in getting our findings and ideas to wider audiences.

The ESRC Celebrating Impact Prize is now into its sixth year with awards in the categories of Business and Enterprise; Public Policy; Society; International Impact; Early Career, and Impact Champion. Previous shortlisted and winning applications have come from sociologists and whilst the deadline has passed for submissions for the 2018 awards the BSA is working to support members as they develop their research, knowledge exchange and impact work.

The BSA has been working across the career span, and with parallel learned societies and the Academy of Social Sciences, to support members to develop wider engagement with their research. For example, the ESRC suggests nine ways in which social scientists can promote impact and these include:

  • establishing networks and relationships with research users
  • acknowledging the expertise and active roles played by research users in making impact happen
  • involving users at all stages of the research, including working with user stakeholder and participatory groups
  • flexible knowledge exchange strategies, which recognise the roles that partners and collaborators may wish to play
  • developing good understanding of policy/practice contexts and encouraging users to bring knowledge of context to research
  • commitment to portfolios of research activity that build up reputations with research users
  • consistent working towards excellent infrastructure, leadership and management support
  • involve intermediaries and knowledge brokers as translators, amplifiers, network providers at times
  • supporting space and time for collaborative reflection on research design and process, findings and overall progress. 

The BSA Sociologists Outside Academia, Early Career Forum and Postgraduate Forum offer opportunities for networking and exploring ways to develop impact. The recent mentoring cafes, along with regional events, annual and study group conferences and seminars offer opportunities for us to work across the sectors and sub disciplines to enhance the potential for sociology to have a wider impact.