Pathways to Impact - guidance for applicants and reviewers

A clearly thought through and acceptable pathways to impact is an essential component of a research proposal and a condition of funding.

Applicants are required to use this section of the proposal to identify the potential impact of their work and to outline the steps they can sensibly make now to facilitate the realisation of those impacts.

Identified impacts should clearly align with the case made for the importance of the research but may be much broader. If a proposal is ranked high enough to be funded but does not have an acceptable Pathways to Impact it will be returned. Applicants will be asked to revise the Pathways to Impact and the proposal will only be funded once that acceptable revision has been received.

Detailed guidance is available on the definition of impact, and how to prepare a pathways to impact document on the RCUK Pathways to Impact site.

Here are some tips that we gathered from participants in the impact sessions at the 2010 EPSRC Regional Meetings:

  • Make sure you cover the full range of impacts shown in the diagram.
  • Be specific about what you are going to do during the lifetime of the project to facilitate the pathways to impact.
  • Remember to ground the impact activities clearly in the context of your research project.
  • Think 'outside the box' and be creative and innovative.
  • But be realistic and don't over-egg the pudding.
  • Avoid sentences using the phrase 'the usual...'.
  • Don't waffle - only use as much of the two sides as you need.
  • Have the reviewer criteria in front of you when writing your proposal.
  • Remember you can request resources for pathways to impact activities as long as they are project-specific and justified.

Here is some extra guidance on frequently asked questions:

What's the difference between the two summaries on the Joint electronic submission (Je-S) form and the Pathways to Impact document?

The summaries may appear in the public domain so need to be written in non-technical language. Their focus is on the beneficiaries, and what the impacts will be for them. The Pathways to Impact document is part of the case for support, so will be used by reviewers. It should cover what you will actually do - activities such as networking events, workshops, publications, public engagement and training. You can design your Pathways to Impact activities so that they align and are integrated with the research.

And the difference between the Impact Summary and Academic Beneficiaries?

They are different, so don't just cut and paste! The Impact Summary should cover potential economic and societal impacts. The questions you should address here are: Who might benefit from this research and how? In contrast, the Academic Beneficiaries section is the space to set out how your proposed research will contribute to knowledge both within the UK and internationally. How will it benefit other researchers in your field and in other disciplines?

What about academic impacts?

When applying for EPSRC funding, pathways towards academic impact are expected to be outlined in the Academic Beneficiaries and appropriate Case for Support sections. An exception to this is where academic impact forms part of the critical pathway to economic or societal impact. This would include, for instance, reaching academic disciplines beyond your own.

What if I think Impact doesn't apply to my research?

Impact has been described very broadly, and it is the expectation that everyone will be able to write something, but if you feel you can't, then you can use the Pathways to Impact to explain your reasoning. Your arguments will be reviewed with the rest of the proposal.

How does Public engagement fit?

Public engagement is a valid and important route to impact and EPSRC encourages researchers to include public engagement activities within their Pathways to Impact plans. These activities should be related to the research within the grant and should not be generic science or engineering outreach.

What about users and other collaborators?

Potential users of the research can play a key role in helping you write the Pathways to Impact, and then in contributing to the project during its lifetime, both with resources and with intellectual input. For instance they can contribute to the development of research questions, advise on opportunities for using any results or outputs, and could commit resources to follow-on activities.

If you don't have contacts with users before the project, don't forget you can use Pathways to Impact resources and activities to help you find them, for instance through networking meetings, seminars and so on.

Resources

You can request any eligible project-specific resources but not general activities funded centrally (for example intellectual property costs, technology transfer office costs). Remember to address these in the Justification of resources.

How should I review Pathways to Impact?

When assessing pathways to impact please consider how well the applicants have addressed all the following points:

  • How convincingly the potential impact of the activity has been described
  • How that impact compares to your normal expectations for the general type of activity proposed
  • How appropriate / effective the arrangements described for facilitating the impact are
  • How appropriate the collaboration arrangements in the proposal are in this respect

We don't need you to take the relative importance of the identified impacts into account in reaching your judgement. The key element to be assessed is the range and appropriateness of the activities to be undertaken to help realise them.

Proposals where impact activities are clearly integrated throughout the broader project should normally be seen as stronger than those where they are seen as an afterthought bolted on to the back of the project. As for any other part of the review please ensure you comment fully on the pathway to impact, and that your comments are all explained and justified. Terse comments are generally seen as unhelpful by panels and are often discounted. This is particularly true for tersely supportive comments.

What is the relationship between national importance and Impact?

  • The purpose of national importance is to encourage applicants to articulate why it's important for their research to be supported by the UK taxpayer so that the UK remains internationally competitive. National importance has a number of strands and so answers to this question might cover; why the research might benefit the UK economy, why it may lead to advances in a different academic discipline, why it is important in the context of EPSRC's Delivery Plan or why it's important that an internationally leading group continues to be supported.
  • The Impact criterion focuses much more on how you might accelerate the route to making it happen; what activities are you proposing to ensure that the potential beneficiaries have the opportunity to benefit? Impact is about who the beneficiaries of the research might be and how you are going to work with them to shorten the time between discovery and use of knowledge.
  • We do not expect applicants to be able to predict the impact of their research, nor do we expect reviewers to make assumptions about the probability of the benefits being fully delivered. However, we would encourage all researchers to think at the earliest stage who might use the outputs of their research and how to make that happen.

More information can be found at preparing new proposals to include national importance.