An effective outcomes-based approach to designing, planning, implementing, and monitoring impact is vital. Impact planning and activities should be part of the whole research lifecycle and can be broken down to a number of easy to follow steps.

Key steps in planning impact:

  • Desired impact: it is important to start thinking about the desired impact at the beginning of the project (or even when designing the project) so that the associated activities and outputs can be carefully planned and resources to track them allocated. This usually means thinking about the type of change that the project will aim to achieve – for example, making an internet a safer place for children – and can be on a longer or shorter timescale.
  • Identifying and mapping stakeholders and beneficiaries: this step involves brainstorming who the relevant institutions and actors and their respective interests are, as well as commencing initial engagement with the stakeholders and finding what potential benefits or barriers they see with the project. It is advantageous to maintain continuous engagement with the stakeholders throughout the research process, so they can have an input at all stages, making them more likely to commit to assisting with the project impact.
  • Contextual analysis: As well as mapping individuals, it is also often useful to map the groups, structures and processes relevant to your area of interest in order to understand potential impact pathways and barriers. This can help to ensure good understanding of the relevant issues and inform decisions about ways of addressing them.
  • Consider demand and use: in addition to considering how to build capacity to generate and communicate research, also consider the need to support the individual and organisational usage of and demand for research This could include the skills and commitment of users to access, evaluate, and use a variety of (often conflicting) evidence in their decision-making.
  • Critical reflection: decisions and plans should be continuously monitored, assessed, and if necessary adapted; once the planned research activities are underway, reflecting on progress, challenges, and possible gaps is important in case any re-adjustment is be needed.
  • Strategic communication, outreach, networking, collaborations: this stage involves using a range of activities and formats to tailor, package, synthesise, share, and discuss the findings with different audiences and to work collaboratively to achieve the desired changes.
  • Tracking uptake and impact: ongoing monitoring of the outputs, processes, and outcomes emerging from your project; this might include intended or unintended outcomes, as well as both positive and negative ones.

You can use a Theory of change to help you identify the necessary sequence of steps that ensure maximum impact from your research.

Theory of Change is an outcomes-based approach which applies critical thinking to the design, implementation and evaluation of initiatives and programmes intended to support change in their contexts. (Vogel, 2012: 3)

Further resources:

Getting started with impact

What is research impact?

Planning and monitoring impact

Engaging with stakeholders

Anyone may use the resources under the Attributive Non-Commercial Creative Commons License (CC BY-NC) crediting Global Kids Online as the source.

Reference:  Vogel, I (2012) Review of the use of Theory of Change in international development, UK Department of International Development


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