Research Councils UK (RCUK) defines research impact as 'the demonstrable contribution that excellent research makes to society and the economy'.

When we make investment decisions, we do not expect you to be able to predict the impact of your research. However, by considering impact from the outset, we expect you to:

  • explore who could potentially benefit from your work
  • look at how you can increase the chances of potential beneficiaries benefiting from your work.

Opportunities for making an impact may arise, and should be taken, at any stage during or after the lifecourse of your research. It is important that you have in place a robust plan for maximising the likelihood of such opportunities arising and your capacity for taking advantage of these.

All applicants for ESRC funding are required to complete a Pathways to Impact statement which enables researchers to set out how they intend to maximise opportunities for impact and to apply for funding to carry out the required activities.

Why make an impact?

In recent years, the government has placed increasing emphasis on the need for evidence of economic and social returns from its investment in research. By ensuring that ESRC-funded research makes the biggest possible impact on policy and practice, and improving how we measure and capture this, we are better able to support the case for research funding.

Benefits for society

By ensuring that decisions on policy and practice are informed by secure evidence, research can help to:

  • improve the effectiveness and sustainability of public, private and third sector organisations
  • improve social welfare and cohesion
  • increase economic prosperity, wealth creation and regeneration
  • enhance cultural enrichment and quality of life.

Benefits for researchers

Researching with impact in mind can help researchers with:

  • early feedback – to help shape your research agenda and improve methodologies
  • relevance – ensuring your research is meaningful, timely and useful
  • recruiting participants, for example for focus groups or surveys
  • developing new skills and raising your profile.

Types of research impact

ESRC invests in research that is excellent, independent and which has impact. This can involve academic impact, economic and societal impact or both:

  • Academic impact is the demonstrable contribution that excellent social and economic research makes to scientific advances, across and within disciplines, including significant advances in understanding, method, theory and application.
  • Economic and societal impact is the demonstrable contribution that excellent social and economic research makes to society and the economy, of benefit to individuals, organisations and nations.

The impact of research, be it academic, economic and social can include:

  • Instrumental: influencing the development of policy, practice or service provision, shaping legislation, altering behaviour
  • Conceptual: contributing to the understanding of policy issues, reframing debates
  • Capacity building: through technical and personal skill development.

For practical guidance on planning research impact, see the information on developing an impact strategy.

Maximising impact

To find out more about impact, including how to make an impact with your research and what the benefits are, see our guidance on how to maximise impact.