Understanding impact

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This workshop was held at the Understanding Society Scientific Conference 2015.

Longitudinal studies are designed to address some of the most important challenges facing our society today. Researchers using these data are charting social and biosocial change, and untangling the reasons behind it. Their findings are often powerful and widely relevant.

Impact is becoming integrated in the very research process, a shift largely driven by our funders. Today, much of our academic success can be measured by the impact our work achieves. This workshop looked at the impact process from start to finish, with a focus on influencing the policy development process and the REF (Research Excellence Framework).

Key learning

  • Research impact is rarely linear or immediate.
  • Be realistic about your part in the process. Some factors are out of your control, for example the quality of the legislative debate and the economic climate.
  • Not all research will make an instrumental change in laws, policies or behaviours (instrumental impact). Demonstrating that you have influenced the debate (conceptual impact) can be just as important.
  • Impact matters to future funding – impact case studies account for 20% of the REF.

Speaker slides

  1. Introduction to impact – Meghan Rainsberry
  2. Research and policy development – Richard Bartholomew
  3. Impact and the REF – Vicky Jones

Practical exercise

Tips & tricks

  • Think broadly about stakeholder groups – policy and practice changes aren’t made by just one person or organisation.
  • Consider using a mix of channels to communicate with your stakeholders
  • Think about who has ‘pull’ with your stakeholders – can you get some key influencers on board in order to reach others?
  • Answer the ‘so what’ question – why do your findings matter to policymakers, practitioners or other stakeholders?
  • Create your own luck – think about things like policy announcements, public campaigns, etc. that might help or hinder you


  • Meghan Rainsberry photo


    Meghan Rainsberry,

    Communications Manager

    Meghan Rainsberry is the Communications Manager for CLOSER and the Centre for Longitudinal Studies (CLS). She is responsible for communicating the value of the British birth cohort studies to researchers, funders, policy makers, participants and the general public. She has extensive experience in developing impact and communications strategies, policy engagement, and communicating research through press, events, websites and social media.

    Meghan is the 2015 winner of the UCL Institute of Education's Director Prize for Public Engagement. She holds an MSc in Media, Communications and Development from the London School of Economics, where she specialised in community engagement and public health.