Leveraging the societal impact of research
We believe that research has the responsibility to contribute to addressing and resolving complex societal challenges. As such, research should have an effect on life beyond academia: it should spark benefits to economy, society, culture, public policy or services, health, the environment and society’s quality of life. This change is complex, evolves over time and takes different paths depending on disciplines, sectors and time lines. Benefits can be instrumental (e.g. influencing the development of a policy or practice or changing behavior), conceptual (e.g. contributing to a new awareness or understanding) and of capacity building nature (e.g. developing skills).
To unfold societal impact, the role of formal and informal relationships with diverse societal stakeholders is crucial: research itself does not create impact. Only when players outside the academic realm, such as governmental agencies, companies or civil society organizations, pick up scientific knowledge and apply it to practice, it creates value for society. Therefore, Open Innovation in Science (OIS) - involving societal actors early on, cooperating with citizens and stakeholders outside research and co-producing research – becomes an important aspect of impact. OIS practices enable an orientation of research towards true societal needs and increase the partners’ readiness to take up findings.
We want to facilitate and support research entities in systematically and strategically leveraging the societal impact of their research activities. Together, we develop and apply tools that support strategic impact planning and enable continuous impact reflection, steering and assessment. Our focus is on supporting research groups who apply OIS methods in their research and who work openly by involving and engaging relevant stakeholders in their research.
OIS practices trigger complex change processes that lead to societal impact. Together with a diverse set of stakeholders, we set out to make these different pathways to impact visible, explicit and tangible. Therefore, we co-creatively developed the OIS Impact Model that shows how OIS initiatives for involvement and engagement should be designed and what effects they should have on personal awareness and competencies, behavior and life circumstances of all those involved.
In time, the OIS Impact Model will be filled with examples on how the different change elements can be assessed. The model can be used as a planning tool: research project teams can identify the key change elements they aspire to influence with their OIS initiative and set up appropriate assessment mechanisms throughout and at the end of the research project.
To foster change processes that lead to societal impact through involvement and engagement, OIS initiatives need to be well-designed. On the basis of the quality criteria defined in the OIS Impact Model, we developed an instant feedback mechanism that can be applied after all involvement and engagement activities (e.g. co-creative workshops, consultation meetings).
The Participation Check is a short questionnaire for all participants involved. It ensures that the set-up and design of the involvement activities is in line with intended goals. This allows timely intervention to ensure that the involvement strategy can unfold its potential for achieving impact.
A limited set of metrics does not do justice to the multidimensional character of impact. Instead, a comprehensive approach is required to demonstrate the complex pathways to impact. The Impact and Engagement Study provides a structure to describe impact narratively. By following reflection questions, research project teams can think about the pathways, processes and methods of their research project that led to societal impact. The final case study can then be used as a basis for future learning.
Feel free to apply and use these tools to design and attend to the impact strategy of your research project. If you have any further questions about the tools, are willing to share your experience or offer feedback, we look forward to hearing from you!