The growing ‘impact agenda’ has forced researchers more than ever to consider the wider social effects of their work. The STEPS Centre uses impact methodologies to reflect on how we are embedded in processes of learning and change.

The STEPS Centre’s dedicated Impact, Communications and Engagement (ICE) unit works to understand and improve our societal impact. The ICE unit supports projects to articulate how they will engage with wider society, to plan ahead, and to reflect on what they are contributing to local contexts, as well as to national and international debates and processes.

ESRC Impact Awards

STEPS Director Ian Scoones was a winner of the Outstanding International Impact Award at the ESRC’s 50th anniversary Celebrating Impact Award ceremony in June 2015, for his work on rural livelihoods in Zimbabwe.

In June 2016, Melissa Leach (Director of the Institute of Development Studies) and team were shortlisted in the same category for their work on the Ebola Response Anthropology Platform (ERAP) and the related Ebola: lessons for development initiatives.

In 2012, the STEPS Centre won the first ever John Ziman award from the European Association for the Study of Science and Technology (EASST) for “the most innovative cooperation in a venture to promote the public understanding of the social dimensions of science”. The award was given for the STEPS Centre’s project ‘Innovation, Sustainability, Development: A New Manifesto’.

Impact stories

The social life of infectious diseases

A multimedia story tracing our work on Ebola, avian flu and other diseases since 2006. The first in a short series of impact stories drawn from a decade of research and engagement, it focuses on how the STEPS Centre engaged with policy, practice and debates on how to prevent and respond to disease.

From land grabs to the Anthropocene: exploring the politics of resources

This story looks at how the STEPS Centre responded to the explosion in land grabbing in 2007 and 2008 and revealed the role of ‘green grabs’ and ‘water grabs’. Our work went on to explore the politics and conflicts involved in offsetting schemes and the ‘green economy’, and open up debates about emerging discourses such as the Anthropocene.

Navigating a tangled web: how STEPS helped to build a community of new sustainability professionals

The third impact story focuses on how STEPS has used its Summer School and other forms of training and engagement to build capacities and exchange ideas with researchers from around the world.

Making futures

How can citizens become more involved in shaping science, technology and innovation? From villages in rural India to makerspaces in Barcelona, STEPS Centre explored this question with groups and communities around the world. This story explains how we did it and what we learned.

Reshaping development goals

This story explores the STEPS Centre’s involvement with processes that led up to the creation of Sustainable Development Goals in 2015, and the debates convened by STEPS on what the new global goals would mean for earth science, international action and impacts on the ground in poor countries.

Blog posts on impact

Research collaboration for global challenges: why it’s really hard by Ian Scoones, STEPS blog, 11 April 2016

Celebrating impact: How multidisciplinary One Health research produced results for real change in the real world by Naomi Marks, Nature Soapbox blog, 8 June 2016

Participatory approaches to impact: Learning from the STEPS Centre at Sussex Impact Day by Nathan Oxley, Research To Action blog, 22 June 2015

Framing impact: a simple word for a complex beast by Nathan Oxley, STEPS blog, 8 October 2013

Our methodology

We use a planning tool called Participatory Impact Pathways Analysis (PIPA). PIPA aims to include project partners in discussing the actors and networks we might influence through a research project. We also look at how best to engage with them, and what power and politics are involved.

For more details on how we use this method, look at our PIPA page in the Methods section of this website.

PIPA allows us to identify differences in outlook and knowledge among project partners. We have used it because we want to understand how our projects interact with wider processes of social change.

Analysing impact pathways

Our projects are also tracking interactions with individuals and networks. This has helped to build up a picture of where our work has an influence, and the potential reach of our ideas.

We reviewed our PIPAs in the middle of our projects and at the end, and compared them, to understand our success and challenges, and what unexpected impacts had emerged.

Working paper on impact

This paper by Adrian Ely and Nathan Oxley explores the STEPS Centre’s approach to impact within the context of wider debates and responses to the impact agenda. It also describes our use of the ‘Participatory Impact Pathways Analysis’ (PIPA) method, reflects on how it has interacted with our research and covers our emerging thinking about how to evaluate the impact of our projects.