Maximizing Impact: Strategies for Successful Arts and Humanities Research Bids

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Chevaughn Higgins is an Impact (Evidence and Evaluation) Coordinator in the Research Excellence and Impact team in Research and Innovation Services (RIS) at the University of Bath. This is a blog post from Chevaughn on a recent workshop on building impact into research bids...

On 24 of May 2024, I attended the CONF 24 Workshop entitled "Building Impact into Research Bids." This session focused on strategies for incorporating impact into arts and humanities research bids, providing valuable insights from experienced researchers and policy experts. One notable discussion featured Paul McWhirter from AHRC UKRI, who offered valuable advice on embedding impact into research bids. Here, we look at his top tips that will be beneficial for researchers aiming to strengthen the impact of their work.

  1. Theory of Change: A Foundation for Impact

One of the central themes of the workshop was the importance of developing a theory of change. This concept involves mapping out the expected outcomes of your research and the steps required to achieve them. It’s not just about identifying the end goals but understanding the processes and mechanisms that will lead to those outcomes. By integrating a theory of change into your research proposal, you can clearly demonstrate how your work will generate real-world impact.

  1. Letters of Support: Evidence of Collaboration and Relevance

The workshop highlighted the critical role that letters of support play in research bids. These letters serve as evidence of genuine collaboration and the real-world relevance of your research. It’s essential that these letters reflect a true partnership, showing that your research partners are actively engaged and invested in the project. Reviewers are keen to see authentic support, so avoid using generic templates. Instead, work closely with your partners to craft letters that convey their unique contributions and perspectives.

  1. Responsive Mode Funding: An Opportunity for Policy Impact

The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) provides significant funding through its responsive mode, which has recently been restructured into the Curiosity and Catalyst schemes. These programs offer flexible opportunities to embed policy impact into your research from the outset. Paul emphasized that researchers should not wait for specific policy-focused calls but should proactively integrate policy impact into their responsive mode applications. This approach helps assert the relevance of arts and humanities research in the policy arena and can lead to meaningful, timely contributions.

  1. Iterative Co-Design: Crafting Research Questions with Partners

Another key point discussed was the iterative process of co-designing research questions with your partners. Rather than starting with predefined questions, involve your partners in the early stages to identify the most relevant and impactful questions together. This collaborative approach not only strengthens the research but also ensures that the outcomes are directly applicable to the needs of the communities and policy challenges you aim to address.

  1. Understanding Your Policy Audience

To effectively influence policy, it’s crucial to know who your audience is and when they will be receptive to your evidence. Policymakers have specific timelines and agendas, such as consultations and evidence-gathering periods. By aligning your research dissemination with these schedules, you can enhance the likelihood of your work being noticed and utilized. Engaging with local MPs and other regional policymakers can also provide valuable leverage, as they are often keen to highlight positive contributions from their constituencies.

  1. Local and University Partnerships: Leveraging Institutional Branding

The workshop also touched on the strategic use of local and university partnerships. Universities often have established relationships and branding that can lend credibility and visibility to your research. Collaborating with local community groups and leveraging these institutional connections can open doors to policymakers and amplify the impact of your work.

  1. Continuous Improvement and Feedback

Finally, the importance of continuous improvement and feedback was underscored. The AHRC is committed to refining its processes, including the new funding service, to better meet the needs of researchers. Constructive feedback from the research community is vital for this ongoing development. Researchers are encouraged to engage with these processes and share their experiences to help shape more effective funding mechanisms.

In conclusion embedding impact into research bids is an evolving process that requires thoughtful planning and strategic collaboration. By developing a robust theory of change, securing meaningful letters of support, leveraging responsive mode funding, engaging in iterative co-design, understanding policy audiences, and utilizing local partnerships, researchers can enhance the impact of their work. The insights from Paul McWhirter provided a valuable roadmap for navigating these complexities and achieving meaningful, policy-relevant outcomes.

For further support in incorporating impact into your research proposals or if you have any questions, please contact the impact team. We are here to help you navigate the complexities of research funding and maximize the impact of your work. Interested in learning more? Please explore the Impact Fellowship, IPR’s Policy Engagement Opportunities, or the Bath Policy Engagement Academy. Reach out to us today to ensure your research makes a meaningful difference in policy and beyond.

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