Monday, 26 November 2018

Research Outcome versus Research Impact

(Model from Penfield, Baker, Scoble, & Wykes, 2014)
We can, as Veal and Darcy point out, consider or reconsider research within a new or different discipline; geographically; socially; temporally; contextually or methodologically (2014, as cited by Jones, 2015). This in turn means that research outcomes can consist of new knowledge; new methods; new models; existing methods used in a new way or in a new field; existing knowledge tested in a new way or in a new field; existing models applied in a different way or to a new field; amendment of an existing model; amendment of an existing method; amendment of knowledge. Research outcomes therefore include "the creation of new knowledge, including new research questions, proposals, theories, and models"  (Hayat, 2014, p. 30) and "career, educational, administrative, tool, business and socio-political developments" (p. 31). 

A question posted on Quora a while ago was: What is the difference between research outcome and research impact? It is an interesting question to ask, and, from the answers, a little difficult to clearly answer.

Dennis Nangabo proposed that outcomes were about "the findings, conclusion and recommendations arising from any particular research”, while Martha Lyon suggested that this was “the end result of conducting research on a particular topic. It may be […] a conclusion, such as phonics is the best method for teaching reading based on research that collected pre- and post-1966 reading test results”. Martha Kirtley’s contribution was “Consider Gregor Mendel and his peas. The outcome of his research was to explain why some peas had wrinkles and other peas were smooth” (Quora, 1 Mar 2014).

When it came to research impact, Dennis Nangabo suggested that impact was about “‘how the findings will affect’ […] the beneficiaries of your research". Martha Lyon linked to the her outcome example to the impact being “the effect on the education system of the reading research’s resulting conclusion is that school districts around the country decide to replace the ‘new’ teaching methodologies for teaching reading in elementary school with phonics”. Justin Gibson proposed impact was “how the results of the study influenced the thinking and work of other scientists working in the area”, going on to consider how we measure impact as “how many other researchers cited the work”: both good points. (Quora, 1 Mar 2014).

However, all these ideas don’t really consider that academia is a small space, surrounded by the world at large. Pensfield, Baker, Scoble and Wykes cite the UK’s Research Excellence framework and propose that research impact is the “effect on, change or benefit to the economy, society, culture, public policy or services, health, the environment or quality of life, beyond academia”(2014, p. 21). I like that definition. Then, to return to Martha Kirtley’s analogy about Gregor Mendel: “The impact of his research is still being felt in ever-increasing waves of information about how to cure diseases. Mendel had no idea what the impact of his research would become” (Quora, 1 Mar 2014).

Martha Kirtley raises a valuable point: we research and write it up, but have no idea what impact the communication of those ideas may have in the long term. For most of us, very little: we add our grains of sand to the desert. For others, their contribution is a perfect pyramid, visible from space.

What the answers didn’t do was to explicitly say that without clear outcomes, there can be no impact.


Sam

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