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Achieving research impact is necessary if we are to improve child health. But what exactly is research impact? Can you plan for it? On this page we explore the concept of research impact, and provide a variety of tips, tools and templates to help kick-start your impact efforts.
The research landscape has changed in recent years, with a growing international emphasis on the measurable contribution research makes to health, the economy and society. Increasingly, governments, funding bodies and philanthropic groups are seeking ways to capture and assess the value and socio-economic return on research investment.
More than ever before, researchers are being asked to plan for, measure and describe the impact their research has had, and is likely to have in the future. As a health and medical research community, we are continually on the lookout for new and innovative ways to optimise the impact of our research. Ultimately, achieving research impact involves doing what we can to ensure our research makes a difference.
While research impact can mean different things to different people, there are some relevant definitions in health and medical research that we can begin to use as a map and compass to navigate the impact landscape.
The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) defines research impact as:
the verifiable outcomes that research makes to knowledge, health, the economy and/or society. Impact is the
effect of the research after it has been adopted, adapted for use, or used to inform further research.
The Australian Research Council (ARC) defines research impact as:
the contribution that research makes to the economy, society, environment or culture, beyond the contribution to
Note that the ARC definition of research impact excludes benefits within academia.
These definitions invite us to shift our focus from our research outputs (e.g., journal articles, conference papers, reports) to the measurable effects, changes or benefits of our research findings. While outputs and bibliometrics are foundational aspects of our research processes and system, they don't tell us about the impact of our research.
Knowledge translation is a dynamic and iterative process that involves:
the synthesis, exchange, and application of knowledge by relevant stakeholders to accelerate the benefits of global and local innovation in strengthening health systems and improving people’s health .
Knowledge translation refers to the processes involved in raising awareness of knowledge and facilitating its use. It addresses the gap between what we know and what we do to inform decision-making, behaviour, policy and practice. When we talk about “planning for impact” and “impact activities” we are often referring to processes synonymous with knowledge translation.
 World Health Organization. (2006). Bridging the “know-do” gap meeting on knowledge translation in global health. Geneva: World Health Organization.
Achieving research impact is central to increasing understanding and improving health and wellbeing – and the health system.
Driving the focus on research impact is a desire to maximise the benefits from investments in research, and enhance the quality of research by improving:
 Leone. V, Modica. L, West. S (2017). The Melbourne Children’s Knowledge Translation and Research Impact Project.
Final Report: A Framework for Action. The Centre for Community Child Health at The Royal Children’s Hospital and
the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute, Parkville, Victoria.
 Guthrie, S., Wamae, W., Diepeveen, S., Wooding, S., & Grant, J.
(2013). Measuring research. A guide to research evaluation
frameworks and tools. Santa Monica, California: RAND Corporation.
As a health and medical research community, a focus on impact is fundamental if we are to address these known deficits:
The beneficial consequences of research are extraordinarily varied, and there are many different pathways to creating impact.
Most definitions of research impact describe impact domains, or types of impact. The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) outlines four broad
types of research impact: knowledge impact, health impact, economic impact and societal impact.
Knowledge impact includes new knowledge, demonstrating the benefits emerging from adoption, adaption or use of new knowledge to inform further research, and/or understanding of what is effective.
Health impact includes improvements in health through new therapeutics, diagnostics, disease prevention or changes in behaviour; or improvements in diagnosis and treatment, management of health problems, health policy, health systems, and quality of life.
Economic impact includes reducing health care costs, improving health system efficiencies or improving economic performance through creation of new products, jobs or industries.
Social impact includes improvements in the health of society, including the wellbeing of the end user and the community. This may include improved ability to access health care services, or to participate socially and/or in decision-making.
Canadian Academy of Health Sciences provides a taxonomy of impact similar to the NHMRC definition, but breaks things down further:
And economic and social benefits.
Whether we are a student, a researcher, a health professional, or whether we support or run health or research programs, all of us will likely see our efforts contributing to one or more of these impact areas.
Much of the discourse on research impact is assessment driven. It focuses on rigorously measuring and describing the impact of the research once that impact has occurred. While that is an important part of the impact conversation, we are equally concerned with the different processes, structures, planning, activities, and support that enable and provide the evidence-based foundations for achieving greater research impact. Our approach to research impact is very interested in understanding and amplifying what makes research impactful – not merely assessing impact.
There is no template to achieving research impact. When it comes to knowledge translation, implementation, improvement and impact in health, we're dealing with complex practices that take place in complex systems and that require skill and situational judgment, which comes with experience, and which comes from sharing and learning from one another, as well as the evidence about what works.
That said, planning for impact makes it more likely your research will make a difference. Planning for impact before a project begins, or at the beginning of a research project, is not essential for impact to occur, but is incredibly helpful in supporting researchers to undertake impactful activities and implement measures to identify the type, significance and reach of their impact.
Planning for research impact takes time, but is well worth the effort.
We recommend a seven-step process:
Your research impact plan is dynamic, and will likely change over the course of your project – we recommend reviewing and updating it at least every quarter.
Please direct questions or feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Impact planning template
Our Melbourne Children's Impact Planning Template is a tool to help you conceptualise your research impact. We suggest you begin here.
The template will guide your thinking on:
Impact Planning Template with guidance (PDF)
Lost in knowledge translation: Time for a map?
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The Centre for Community Child Health is a department of The Royal Children’s Hospital and a research group of Murdoch Childrens Research Institute.