By Dr Giovanna Lima
SHAPE-ID was already entering its second year when I joined Trinity College Dublin in January 2020 as its first research impact officer, based in the Trinity Long Room Hub Arts and Humanities Research Institute (TLRH) in a pilot with Trinity’s Office of the Dean of Research. Before I tell you about my SHAPE-ID journey, let me first share with you more about what I do and what is research impact.
Being a research impact officer
A research impact officer is a position in research support that is increasingly common across research performing organisations. We help to identify, support the development of, and communicate the diversity of impacts arising from the work of researchers, research teams and their projects. In my case, I help the community understand the depth and breadth of what impact means and can mean, especially in the context of Arts and Humanities research, and the potential routes to delivering impact. This overarching idea translates into a very dynamic daily practice with our community.
On the individual level, I support researchers to promote and recognise the effects and value of all their scholarly activities to different types of stakeholders, focusing on how to showcase their activities and their impact as a researcher. On the institutional level, I collaborate with the TLRH team on assessing and maximising its projects and programmes impacts, including by reviewing current and emerging trends on research impact across higher education and cognate institutions to inform our practices. On the project level, which is the one I’ll be focusing on the rest of this blog post, I provide advice, training, and guidance on how to maximise research impact at all stages of the research lifecycle.
Research impact and its components
And what do I mean by impact, you may ask. While it is an evolving term and each institution has a different definition for it, impact “may be broadly defined as a change or a benefit to the economy, society, culture, public policy or services, health, the environment or quality of life.” The focus is on the results, on the ‘so what’ of scholarly activities, research, and research outputs.
During the conceptualisation of a project, for example, the focus is planning for impact. We encourage researchers to define what are the project impact goals, that is, what will be different in the world once their research project is done. This usually includes identifying who in society may influence or be a partner in the project, who might be positively or negatively affected by it and how, and what are the pathways to achieve the project’s impact goals. What we usually call “pathways to impact” are the ways in which the research project will increase the likelihood of that impact to happen, and how the project’s results are expected to make a difference in the world, including beyond the immediate scope and duration of the project. For European Commission funded projects, this is particularly addressed on three major stakeholder engagement phases: Communication, Dissemination and Exploitation.
Figure 1 – Maximising Impact: Effective Communication, Dissemination and Exploitation in EU-funded Projects (European IP Helpdesk)
These three different phases and their activities differ in their objective, focus and target audience. “Communication” activities intend to promote the project itself and its results to a multitude of audiences, including the media and the public, and possibly engaging in a two-way exchange. “Dissemination” involves the public disclosure of the results by appropriate means that will reach specific audiences that will likely benefit from engaging with these results, enabling them to potentially use the results. “Exploitation” then is the effective use of results by stakeholders, both within academia (in further research, for example), but also by external stakeholders, such as developing, creating, manufacturing, and marketing a process, service, or product, creating more concrete value and impact for society.
The European Commission expects research projects to actively communicate, disseminate and exploit the project and its results, both during the project, but also after the funded phase its over. Bringing EU-funded research and results to the attention of multiple audiences helps in addressing societal challenges, stimulates further research, and fosters collaboration and exchange on different levels.
Figure 2 – Strategic timing of C-D-E activities in European funding projects (European IP Helpdesk)
My SHAPE-ID impact journey
SHAPE-ID is coordinated by the Trinity Long Room Hub, so I was presented with the ideal opportunity to help this Horizon 2020 project consider its pathways to impact. Developing policy briefs was my first big involvement with the project. Coming from a public policy background myself, it was rewarding to help the research team (or consortium) think through how to best translate the project results and findings to policy recommendations that would be actionable by policymakers.
The project was still half-way through, but ready to disseminate its first findings: key issues and challenges for fostering interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research in Europe, focusing on the integration of the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences (AHSS) in such research. The first policy brief, was followed by two more, focused on improving the quality of meaningful integration and on introducing the SHAPE-ID Toolkit, all with concrete guidance to policy makers and funding organisations on how to tackle longstanding issues.
But as you will probably have noticed from my introduction, a policy brief is part of what we call a pathway to impact: it is not the impact itself, even though it is a tool that puts us on the way to achieve what we set out to achieve.
In the case of SHAPE-ID, as defined in the funding call by the European Commission, the project set out, among other things, to “contribute to developing a policy for integration/interdisciplinarity between SSH and other sciences at European level based on empirical experiences of this kind of interdisciplinarity”. The impact of the project, or the change we wanted to see in the world, was (and still is) that policy for integration being implemented. So, as part of what we define as the dissemination phase of a research project, we wrote audience-focused policy briefs in the hopes that they will be read and then, most importantly, actioned upon by our stakeholders in research funding and research performing organisations. That then allows us to monitor and report on downloads, mentions and testimonials that indeed our brief (and many other research activities) have contributed to a policy change.
And that has been one of the things SHAPE-ID has been up to in the past 6 months: monitoring and reporting on our impacts. The funded part of the project officially ended in October 2021, and for our final report to the European Commission, we were delighted to report multiple short-term outcomes and impacts, of which I’ll share a couple of highlights here:
Increasing understanding of inter- and trans-disciplinarity: with extensive academic and policy literature reviews, survey and interviews with policy stakeholders, SHAPE-ID uncovered the conditions for supporting meaningful interdisciplinarity and provides contextualised access to resources contributing to understanding IDR/TDR in various contexts, including guided reading lists and reflective tools which have been already downloaded close to 500 times.
Raising awareness of AHSS integration: through communicating with our 730+ newsletter subscribers, robust social media community with 1,100+ followers on Twitter, and deep engagement with 160+ participants at the SHAPE-ID learning case workshops, and in its 10 online dissemination activities, SHAPE-ID has reinforced the need for AHSS perspectives, as well as stakeholder perspectives, to be considered for all research addressing societal challenges.
Creating capacity for change: SHAPE-ID delivered or presented in a total of 35 conference presentations, panel and workshop participations and participated in 21 meetings with European funders, university networks and/or invited training events including the COIMBRA Group, ITD21 and TdLab. The SHAPE-ID toolkit, which has been accessed by 8k+ users since 01 July 2021, offers further guidance and empirical evidence to contribute to developing policies for stakeholders to learn and further build on actual practices, including a guide to the toolkit for Research Managers and Administrators.
Influencing research policy: through directly engaging with research performing organisations and national funders from 13 countries and the European Commission, leaders and staff are aware of practices for designing and evaluating research proposals and the effects of institutional structures can have on the development of inter- and transdisciplinary research. SHAPE-ID is also collaborating with LERU to update their influential 2016 Interdisciplinarity in the 21st Century Research Intensive University report, and the three SHAPE-ID policy briefs are particularly useful resources, as indicated by its 1k+ downloads since their publishing.
Figure 3 – SHAPE-ID received great endorsement and feedback by multiple stakeholders. This is one tweet, from Technological University of the Shannon: Midlands Midwest, an Irish public technological university.
It is gratifying to see how much has already been achieved, and then have this be thoroughly recognised and endorsed by the Commission’s independent reviewer earlier in 2022 (read more here). SHAPE-ID results are available on open access and easily shared in our SHAPE-ID Zenodo Community, the Toolkit website, and multiple workshops and events. But SHAPE-ID’s efforts are not over just yet: we are now committed to supporting our stakeholders to make concrete use of our results and resources for scientific, societal, or economic purposes, what we call the exploitation phase of the project.
In the exploitation phase, we were delighted to be supported by the Commission’s Horizons Results Booster program. In it, we were invited to further reflect on the unique problems faced by our stakeholders, and then how SHAPE-ID results can help them solve the exploitation routes.
In the case of policymakers and funders that means articulating how the SHAPE-ID toolkit helps those who want to increase the participation of AHSS in funded projects by summarising 9 recommendations that lead to better AHSS integration, providing a guide for evaluating inter- and transdisciplinary projects, and exemplifying good practices of inter- and transdisciplinary funding programmes. For research performing organisations, how the SHAPE-ID toolkit helps them de-risk inter- and trans-disciplinary careers by highlighting problems and suggesting practical steps to overcome them, including providing reflective tools to evaluate existing supports and a centralised source for existing knowledge and recommendations. And so on.
What about you?
Being part of this project has given me such a privileged opportunity for understanding how to best plan for and deliver research impact, to hands-on help a consortium make a real-world contribution, a benefit, a change in the world. And that is why research impact matters to me and how SHAPE-ID has been contributing to my daily practice.
But what about you? Have you interacted with the project and/or benefited from it? How? We’d love to hear if and how SHAPE-ID has inspired and supported you and your organisation in shaping interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research, and on integrating AHSS with other disciplines. You can share your voice at firstname.lastname@example.org or via our anonymous form. We’d love to spread your experiences with our networks and continue to foster this sharing and learning community.
 “Horizon Europe Glossary: a simple guidance through HEU terminology”, BRIDGE2HE, p.8. Available at https://www.horizoneuropencpportal.eu/sites/default/files/2021-05/glossario%20bridgeHE_0.pdf
 “Maximising Impact: Effective Communication, Dissemination and Exploitation in EU-funded Projects”, European IP Heldesk, p.6. Available at https://ec.europa.eu/regional_policy/rest/cms/upload/20092019_043715_European_IP_Helpdesk_Maximising_Impact_EU_Regions_Week_2019.pdf
Dr Giovanna Lima is Trinity College Dublin’s first research impact officer. She joined the Trinity Long Room Hub in January 2020 as part of a pilot unit cofounded by the Office of the Dean of Research. Working closely with the Hub team and the Office of the Dean of Research and the Library’s research informatics unit, she is dedicated to identifying, supporting the development of, and communicating the diversity of impacts arising from Trinity’s Arts and Humanities research, viz. the programmes of the Trinity Long Room Hub and its nine academic partner Schools. Giovanna holds a PhD in Public Administration and Government by Fundação Getulio Vargas in São Paulo, Brazil. She has previously worked with research and consultancy, and public administration at the local level.