What makes an excellent Pathways to Impact? Here we offer advice which complements and supplements the cross Research Council guidance on what applicants need to include in their applications. 

Principles

Applicants for ESRC (and other research council) funding must complete a Pathways to Impact to show what they intend to do during their research to enable impact in all its forms. RCUK guidance states that the Pathways statement should be clearly thought through, project-specific and not generalised; flexible, and focus on potential outcomes.

The Pathways statement is a very important part of your application and can be challenging for researchers at any career stage. The Pathways to Impact should be viewed as an opportunity for researchers to consider thoroughly what you will do and how you will act to enable your research to connect with others and make a difference conceptually and instrumentally.

Resources applied for and secured through a high quality Pathways to Impact are a vital component of the overall research project and can validate and transform a researcher’s approach and experience of research and impact work.

We fully recognise the non-linear, emergent and diffuse nature of effects arising from the research we fund and that impact cannot be predicted or guaranteed. 

"Research impact cannot be achieved from the research production side alone" Sarah Morton, co-investigator for What Works Scotland

Users can and must play active and varied roles in the use and application of research, all of which can be identified in the Pathways to Impact.  

What makes a high quality social science Pathways to Impact?

A high quality Pathways to Impact will include explicit awareness of principles and practices of knowledge exchange - including the application of principles and practices of co-production - as opposed to dissemination.

A good Pathways statement may include:

  • user consultation in the planning and strategising for impact
  • training workshops and events designed for specific user groups
  • preparation for unanticipated opportunities
  • commitment to include principal and senior investigator time on knowledge exchange and impact activities

The strongest proposals we receive indicate a mind-set towards impact in which research, knowledge exchange (KE) and impact are intertwined.

High quality Pathways statements recognise that researchers need more than technical skills and experience of using research and knowledge exchange methods, and identify when researchers need to strengthen their relationship building, partnership working and negotiation skills to work with research users. 

They also make sure that senior researchers including principal investigators (PI), allocate time to KE and impact activities recognising that collaboration with users often requires a depth of experience and level of standing of the kind held by established researchers and which complements the skills of research associates. Certainly applications for co-produced research are likely to require substantial PI time to be associated with KE and engagement activities.

Tips and tools for creating your Pathways statement

  • Explain how your Pathways statement is intended to enable the impacts you are anticipating.  A useful tool for doing this is Theory of Change (external website)
  • Include space and funding for events if necessary for reflection for the research team as a group or as individuals during the research, with research users if helpful. Consider enabling research users to lead these activities.
  • Ensure that the participation of users is supported by the inclusion of funding towards staff and volunteer time and identify fully the costs of taking part in research.
  • Consider including users as co-investigators in the proposal.
  • Carry out skills checks to ensure that the team and its partners has, or can develop, the full range of personal and technical skills that will be needed to undertake the research including facilitation, partnership working, negotiation and conflict resolution. Your academic development unit or partner training and development specialists can help you access learning opportunities.
  • Consider how senior members of the research team will allow sufficient time to participate in knowledge exchange and impact generating activities. 
  • Consider building space and resources for formal and informal evaluation measures to help your team gauge your progress and advise you when adjustments or agility may be needed
  • Get to know and use your institution's academic development programme to enhance your personal and technical skills sets. Universities with ESRC Impact Acceleration Accounts provide learning and development opportunities that promote capacities for supporting impact.