Most scientists that we advise want to focus on the scientific parts of their proposals. Understandably so, that’s their profession. Unfortunately, most research grants no longer solely focus on the scientific content anymore. A term that requires scientists to think extensively about the broader societal implications of their work is increasingly popping up.
For the larger (consortia) grants, it is no longer enough to fill your knowledge utilisation paragraph by just describing your dissemination strategy. How you will communicate your research to fellow scientists, stakeholders, and the general public is just one of the many means to reach true impact. You need to think bigger, broader, and more long-term! For European funding, defining such impact is already quite standard, and the Netherlands is now following suit.
For the last call of their NWA program, the Dutch National Science Organisation NWO hosted a meeting about impact. Here, they discussed how you can use the Theory of Change methodology to develop an impact plan. The key is to think backwards:
- From long-term impact (for example “people with cancer live longer”),
- through broad project outcomes (“develop a new cancer treatment”),
- to specific outputs that you plan to produce (articles that examine the treatment, medicine etc.).
You can make an impact plan by first specifying the broad societal problem you are targeting and then narrowing it down to specific research questions for your project. Next, you broaden up by determining how your proposed output (for example an insight, method, or product) will affect the outcomes (goals) of your project and what this will mean for societal impact.
Stakeholders and assumptions
Once you have more insight in this impact -> outcome -> output trajectory, you can start filling the gaps. To do so, you should consider who your stakeholders are, people that will be affected by your research. Also keeping track of the assumptions, conditions that are needed for success, will help to identify specific details and risks. For example, for cancer research, we can assume that it is beneficial to personalise treatments to fit the type of cancer and progression of the disease. Defining such assumptions will help to further specify what the project outcome should look like (“develop a new, personalised cancer treatment”).
Finally, you can formulate indicators that illustrate how you recognise the success of a project. These help to verify progress and manage the project well. Such indicators are best devised in a SMART manner (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-Bound) to make them as detailed as possible. For example: “the new treatment of our consortium will successfully treat lung cancer in 65% of the cases within 2 years”.
Creating an impact plan is not hard, but it can be a lot of work. Yet, being forced to think about how to reach impact before starting a project helps you to put your research into perspective, define what partners you need in your consortium, and will facilitate progress of the project after it is funded.
At Evers + Manders, we have broad experience in defining the impact of scientific proposals and we know what funding bodies such as NWO and the EU are looking for. Want to know how we can help you? Contact us for a free consultation!