Thursday 24 April 2014

How does research impact happen?

CRFR have been working in partnership with key voluntary sector organisations from the children and families sector since our inception in 2001.  Sarah Morton carried out an impact case study on the wider effects of CRFR and ChildLine Scotland’s (CLS) joint research conducted between 2004 and 2009.  

This research had investigated children’s concerns about significant others and children’s concerns about sexual health.  Findings about how impact occurs have just been published in an article in the Evidence and Policy Journal which the Policy Press have kindly granted open access to until the end of May 2014: Creating research impact:the roles of research users in interactive research mobilisation. The study is one of very few examples of detailed analysis of the processes of research use by non-academics.

The concepts of ‘research uptake, use and impact’ were defined in this study, in order to describe the processes of research utilisation and their link to different kinds of impact:
  • Research uptake: research users have engaged with research: they have read a briefing; attended a conference or seminar; were research partners; were involved in advising and shaping the research project in some way; or engaged in some other kind of activity which means they know the research exists.
  • Research use: research users act upon research, discuss it, pass it on to others, adapt it to context, present findings, use it to inform policy or practice developments.
  • Research impact: changes in awareness, knowledge and understanding, ideas, attitudes and perceptions, and policy and practice as a result of research.
The phrase ‘research uptake, use and impact’ then sets out a process-orientated definition of research getting into policy and practice, and implies a pathway of engagement between research and relevant communities, activity and change that creates impact.

The impact case study found many examples of research from the CRFR/CLS partnership being used in several sectors. However, there were only three examples of clear links between the research and wider change. The paper demonstrates how research came to have an impact in alcohol policy, sex education practice, and in the call-taking practice of CLS. In each case practitioners, policy-influencers or policy-makers played a key role in generating impact. They used their specific knowledge of the settings they worked in to rework the research in order for it to have an impact:

In the alcohol policy example a key policy-influencing organisation commissioned a follow-up study from ChildLine Scotland to draw out children’s experiences of living with parents who drink which had a significant impact on national policy.

In the sex education example, one organisation created a quiz based on the research which was extensively used throughout schools and children’s services in a large local authority area. There was clear evaluation evidence that this quiz had changed parents, teachers and other professionals views of their role in sex education.

Within ChildLine Scotland, an organisational learning process involved all key stakeholders in consideration of the implications of the research for the service, leading to a change in call-taking processes, and specialised training for call-takers.

The fact that the research had been conducted in partnership between a service agency and a research centre was important in achieving impact. The research was relevant and timely due to the participation of a non-academic with rich networks and on-the-ground knowledge in the research team. Both agencies had high levels of credibility and trust amongst policy and practice communities who were interested in the research. ChildLine Scotland workers talked about the research within their networks prior to it coming out creating anticipation of the findings and readiness to use them.

While the ways that research led to impact described here suggest that engagement and collaboration between research producers and research users are important elements in how research gets used, it is those members of the public, business, government or the third sector who take up the research, if timely and relevant, who are key to subsequent impact. Impact cannot be achieved by researchers alone. It would be impossible to anticipate all of the context-specific potential uses of research that might create impact, and interacting with all of the relevant stakeholders in a meaningful way may also be challenging. Knowledge exchange work to generate impact by CRFR and CLS was also key to stakeholders engagement and subsequent use of the research.

Read the full article here:

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