Bram Vanhoutte, UK Data Service Data Impact Fellow and Research Fellow in Sociology at The University of Manchester, shares his perspectives on how to develop research impact.
In February I attended the first Greater Manchester Ageing Conference 2017.
Organised by the Greater Manchester Ageing Hub, it was a large scale attempt to bring together policy, stakeholders, researchers and various NGO’s to talk about issues of ageing and how they can be addressed in Greater Manchester. Manchester is at the forefront of developing ageing policy as one of the first Age Friendly cities and can count on a number of years of collaboration with the key players such as the Manchester Institute for Collaborative Research on Ageing (MICRA), local housing trusts, policy organisations such as the Centre for Ageing Better.
Attending this event helped me better understand some of the prerequisites of impact creation.
To start up networks of collaboration and influence, you need to know what’s going on and be present at the table. In this case, by the time I found out about the event, it was fully booked. Luckily I had had an appointment with a senior strategy member of the city council to talk about possible impact of my research project two weeks prior to the event, and that helped to squeezed me in at the conference.
Talk to people you don’t know
Striking up conversations with strangers at an event like this is easier than you think! Everyone shares a common interest, so everyone can potentially teach you something that can be interesting for your research or impact work. I met a number of great people, from different backgrounds, who have offered to support at various stages of my research and impact work.
Have a plan
It’s important to be able to summarise your research in a couple of lines, as well as having a clear timeline of when and how to give input, and most importantly what the benefits can be of taking part. For example, after meeting with Manchester City Council, I made a one page summary, with timeline, of input and output moments, highlighting research benefits. This helped to clarify the framework of collaboration, both for me and other parties.
Learn the lingo
Trying to do understand how to create some impact partly is about learning a new language. At the policy conference I came across a lot of new expressions and acronyms, and different concepts to address issues at the policy conference. I made me feel as if I was a new student dropping in at a school half term, very welcome but not really able to contribute much at this point. In that sense I think it’s important to remember that not every event you attend should be a showcase of how smart an academic you are: it can be more important to absorb what others have to say, as being a good listener is an underrated part of having a conversation.