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Pathways to Impact

RCUK recently undertook a review of Pathways to Impact in consultation with representatives from the academic and user communities and have listened and responded to these recommendations. The review reaffirms our commitment to Pathways to Impact and minor amendments have been made which are reflected in the updated information and guidance below.

The Research Councils invest £3bn of public funding in excellent research to bring about positive impact in our society and economy.

This occurs in many ways – through knowledge exchange, new products and processes, new companies and job creation, skills development, increasing the effectiveness of public services and policy, enhancing quality of life and health, international development and so on.

Our primary criterion is research excellence. RCUK introduced Pathways to Impact to encourage you to think about what can be done to ensure your research makes a difference. Through Pathways to Impact we want to encourage you to explore, from the outset and throughout the life of your project and beyond, who could potentially benefit from your research and what you can do to help make this happen.

Our Pathways to Impact case studies provide personal accounts from RCUK-funded researchers in regards to their approaches and experiences of Pathways to Impact, as well as guidance, top tips and best practice for helping researchers to realise the impact of their research. This word cloud may also provide some inspiration.

Across the dual support system, the Research Councils and UK Funding Councils are committed to supporting excellent research and to realise the importance of impact. Research Councils require academics to consider the future impact of research at the point of applying for funding. UK HE Funding Bodies, in context of the REF, assesses the historic evidence of impact. All funders have a common understanding of the importance of societal and economic as well as academic impact.

Research Councils UK defines impact in the following ways:

Academic impact
The demonstrable contribution that excellent research makes to academic advances, across and within disciplines, including significant advances in understanding, methods, theory and application.

When applying for Research Council funding via Je-S, pathways towards academic impact are expected to be outlined in the Academic Beneficiaries and appropriate Case for Support sections. An exception to this is where academic impact forms part of the critical pathway to economic and societal impact.

Economic and societal impacts
The demonstrable contribution that excellent research makes to society and the economy. Economic and societal impacts embrace all the extremely diverse ways in which research-related knowledge and skills benefit individuals, organisations and nations by:

  • fostering global economic performance, and specifically the economic competitiveness of the United Kingdom,
  • increasing the effectiveness of public services and policy,
  • enhancing quality of life, health and creative output.

Public engagement may be included as one element of your Pathway to Impact. Engaging the public with your research can improve the quality of research and its impact, raise your profile, and develop your skills. It also enables members of the public to act as informed citizens and can inspire the next generation of researchers.

A clearly thought through and acceptable Pathways to Impact statement

A clearly thought through and acceptable Pathways to Impact is an essential component of a research proposal and a condition of funding. Grants will not be allowed to start until a clearly thought through and acceptable Pathways to Impact statement is received.

A clearly thought through and acceptable Pathways to Impact statement should:

  • be project-specific and not generalised;
  • be flexible and focus on potential outcomes;

Researchers should be encouraged to:

  • identify and actively engage relevant users of research and stakeholders at appropriate stages;
  • articulate a clear understanding of the context and needs of users and consider ways for the proposed research to meet these needs or impact upon understandings of these needs;
  • outline the planning and management of associated activities including timing, personnel, skills, budget, deliverables and feasibility;
  • include evidence of any existing engagement with relevant end users.

It is expected that being able to describe a pathways to impact will apply for the vast majority of proposals. In the few exceptions where this is not the case, the Pathways to Impact statement should be used to fully justify the reasons why this is not possible.

Research Council guidance for completing the sections on Impact can be found here.

Top Tips for articulating potential impact

  • Draft the Impact Summary very early in your preparation, so that it informs the design of your research.
  • Remember to consider and include project specific costs relating to proposed impact activities e.g. engagement workshops or marketing materials, publication costs, etc.
  • Do not cut and paste the text provided within the Impact Summary into Pathways to Impact. The purpose of the Impact Summary is to provide a short description of the beneficiaries and potential impacts, which could be used in the public domain. Pathways to Impact should set out what the applicant(s) will do to realise the potential impacts.
  • Public engagement is a popular form of impact activity. For such activities to be as effective as possible, try to think of your research in the context of two-way engagement not just outreach.

Further support for completing your Pathways to Impact can be found on individual Research Council websites here:


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