Let’s put our heads together and define ‘impact’.
How do you define it?
What is impact? Is it a result? Is it influence? What do you think it is?
I’ve yet to meet a person who doesn’t want to have an impact. There are some who are clear about the impact they want to achieve, and they have methods in place to measure it. There are many others, however, who confuse impact with activity. And often there is a clear disconnect between people who define impact in different ways.
Clearly defining your desired impact will help you set better goals. You’ll also choose the right metrics to measure your progress. And it’s easy to get this wrong. Here are two simple examples:
- Media Clip Count: Some organizations consider the number of media placements they’ve earned as a measure of impact. If you work in one of those places, I’m sorry to break the news to you – but clip count is a useless statistic. It doesn’t measure is impact. A single story in the right publication, targeting the right audience, may yield more results (greater impact) than a thousand stories shared with the general public. Impact is what happens in the weeks, months and years after stories run, and it’s much more difficult to measure. Despite this fact, many communicators are still evaluated based on how many placements they earn. If increasing brand awareness or generating new business are your goals, choose metrics that tell you how they’ve improved (or not.) Don’t take the easy way out by creating a false connection between activity and results.
- Published Paper Count: I roll my eyes every time I hear someone say they’re being evaluated on how many papers they publish. More papers, more impact, right? No! Not right. With 1.8 million scholarly papers being published each year, I’d argue that we don’t need more papers – we need better papers. Valuing quantity over quality is a recipe for disaster. It causes people to focus on maximizing output (pumping out paper) instead of impact. What kind of influence is the research having on the rest of the scientific community? On society? Measure that, and you’re measuring impact. …and citations don’t tell the whole story either.
What About Broader Impacts?
If you have an interest in winning a research grant from the National Science Foundation you have to understand the potential impact of your work, and it better be measurable. NSF won’t even consider your proposal unless you clearly show how the research benefits science/society. I’ve included links to more information about the NSF Broader Impacts Criterion below.
See, knowing and measuring impact has never been more important!
How do you define impact? Share your thoughts:
- Leave a comment on this blog.
- Share your thoughts on Twitter using the hashtag #whatisimpact.
- Leave a comment where you found this post on LinkedIn, Facebook or Flipboard.
Let’s work together to define impact. I look forward to sharing the results in a future post.
Measurement science – how should research and impact be assessed? James Wilsdon, The Royal Society Publishing Blog, April 10, 2015
Science Funding for the Masses – A Nature article examining NSF’s Broader Impacts Criterion
Broader Impacts Review Criterion – NSF Letter
NSF Broader Impacts Perspectives Brochure
NSF Merit Review Broader Impacts Criterion – Representative Activities (examples)
NSF Broader Impacts – Special Report (examples)
NSF Grant Proposal Guide – Section II.C.2.d – Project Description
NSF Grant Proposal Guide – Section III.A.2 – NSF Proposal Processing and Review