Celebrating Impact Prize: what success looks like

by Heidi Hinder

This week I’ve been looking back at comments from the judging panels in previous rounds of ESRC’s Celebrating Impact Prize to see what the most successful applications share in common. There are a few common themes, each of which answers a different question. I’m hoping capturing and sharing these will provide useful food for thought to those applying to the 2020 Celebrating Impact Prize and to those who are not yet in a position to apply, but are gathering evidence for applying at some stage in the future.

The first question has to be “What has changed because of what I have done?”.  Successful applications tend to answer this easily. Have minds been changed, is regulation different, have there been about-turns on public policy, has money been saved, have new procedures been introduced and so on. This is the key question that you should ask yourself when applying to the Impact Prize – if you can’t answer this then it’s time for a rethink. And who exactly has benefitted from this is typically addressed at the same time because if you know what is different, you can more easily understand who has been impacted.

The question that naturally flows from this is “Where is the evidence for that?”. Applicants in previous rounds became a finalist because their claims and statements about the impact they’d achieved were clearly evidenced in the application. This is where it can be really helpful to have someone else look over the application and challenge every statement or claim made and ask ‘what is the evidence to support it?’.

It’s worth bearing in mind that the letters of support from those you have collaborated and worked with can go some way to addressing this. Endorsement from non-academic stakeholders can demonstrate how your work has influenced or been used by them and adds another dimension to the application.

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The next theme coming out of the judging panels is “What is it that you personally have done?”. In the comments I’ve read the frustration of the judging panel was palpable because of the lack of clarity given by some applicants about what they as an individual did. Successful applicants made it very clear what they individually had done to achieve impact. While the overall work of the wider team was clear, what could be directly attributed to the applicant was clearly explained. Obviously if you are applying as a team it’s not quite so important to distinguish one individual within the team – but you still need to be explaining exactly what the team has done to achieve that impact.

Another set of comments could be addressed by answering the question “What is the link between ESRC-funded research and the impact achieved?”. The best applications made it very clear how ESRC-funded research, and other activities, contributed to the impact. Imagine if you will a flow chart with the ESRC-funded research at the start and the impact at the end – what is the story of what has been done along the way, what were the different inputs of effort, activity, funding and so on over time? It’s worth bearing in mind that several ESRC-funded activities may have contributed, not just the original research. ESRC-funded data resources or non-research awards could all have played a contribution in achieving that impact.

Several other comments came up less regularly, but are still pertinent. With some applications it was clear that submission to the Impact Prize was just too early; the impacts were not yet fully realised or were still to be achieved in the future. In these cases the panel were very often keen to see them resubmitted at a later stage, when evidence of impacts already achieved could be easily provided.

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The broad nature of the Impact Prize means not all reviewers and judging panel members will have in-depth research knowledge of a particular subject so the application needs to be written with this in mind. Plain English applications that avoid jargon or assumptions that the reviewer is an expert in their area will be better received, and more easily understood, by those charged with assessing the impacts. As every finalist has an impact case study and a film professionally made about their work, and winners could well be interviewed by the press, there will be lots of future requests to explain the research and impacts concisely in plain English; it’s worth getting the practise in early on.

If it all sounds a little like preparing for a job interview it’s worth approaching the application process with that level of rigour in mind and making sure you have covered all the key issues and evidenced them up front in the application form. The comments and feedback we get from winners suggest that the benefits of being involved in the Prize include raising the profile of their work, opening up collaboration opportunities, and improving promotion prospects to name but a few – which suggests it’s a worthwhile investment of time and effort.

Heidi Hinder portrait ESRC

Heidi Hinder is a Research Portfolio Manager at ESRC. Her role includes managing the Celebrating Impact Prize and the Innovation Caucus within the ESRC Impact and Innovation team. Applications for the 2020 Celebrating Impact Prize are open until 16:00 on 19 March 2020.

Follow @ESRC on Twitter and #ImpactPrize for updates.

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