STEPS Centre Research: Our Approach to Impact

Working Paper
  • Published 05/02/14
  • ISBN: 978 1 78118 148 5

STEPS Centre Working Paper 60
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The ‘impact’ of research has seen a dramatic rise up the UK’s policy agenda in recent years. But what does ‘impact’ really mean? How do researchers and others respond to the new ‘impact agenda’ and how might we best plan, monitor and report on impact?

This working paper attempts to provide answers to some of these questions by reviewing various understandings of ‘impact’ and describing the approach used by the ESRC STEPS Centre in its second five-year phase of funding. In particular, we draw on our experience of adapting and employing a down-scaled version of ‘participatory impact pathways analysis’ (PIPA) and reflect on its utility and potential as a tool for planning relatively small-scale social science/ interdisciplinary research projects conducted with partners in developing countries.

In using PIPA, the STEPS Centre has adapted the idea of ‘impact pathways’ in line with its broader ‘pathways approach’, which focusses on complex and dynamic interactions between knowledge, politics and ‘social, technological and environmental pathways to sustainability’. In this way, PIPA has been useful in articulating and exploring the potential impact of STEPS Centre projects: it has helped to map out the networks known to the researchers, appreciate different perspectives held by the team members and generate an understanding of the narratives, networks and policy processes under study.

Although the possibility for detailed ex ante prediction of impact pathways is limited, using PIPA has helped teams to be ready to maximise communication and engagement opportunities, and to link research across different STEPS Centre projects and beyond. The working paper also describes how PIPA may be used iteratively in a way that enables reflexive learning amongst research teams. Lastly, we speculate on the ways in which PIPA may be further developed and used in ex post impact monitoring and evaluation into the future.

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