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Research Impact : Impact

This guide provides guidance on scholarly and research impact for authors and investigators.

Why does Impact Matter?

  • Tenure/Promotion
  • Document and quantify research impact
  • Justify future requests for funding
  • Quantify return on research investment
  • Discover how research findings are being used
  • Discover meaningful health outcomes

Outcomes of Impact

  • Contribution to the knowledge base
  • Change in understanding of a disease, disorder or condition
  • Change in practice
  • Change in community health
  • Change in public law or policy
  • Children dancing in the streets (courtesy of Dr. Bradley Evanoff)


  • Lack of generally accepted definition of impact.
  • Time lag between research discovery and translational applications.
  • Locating and reporting of impact indicators is problematic; not an automatic process.
  • Optimal timeframe for starting assessment is unknown and process can vary by type of research and discipline.
  • Supporting documentation may not be publicly available.
  • Difficult to establish a direct correlation from a specific research output.
  • Not a linear process nor is there a standard method for locating evidence of research impact.
  • Lack of harmonization with metrics and terms.

What is Impact?

There are many definitions for impact.

The National Institutes of Health provides a broad description of impact as "improving human health, fueling the U.S. economy, and creating jobs in our communities." For more information as to specific examples of impact resulting from NIH funding, see Impact of NIH Research.

The National Science Foundation uses a series of questions to illustrate the meaning of Broader Impacts:

“How well does the activity advance discovery and understanding while promoting teaching, training, and learning? How well does the proposed activity broaden the participation of underrepresented groups (e.g., gender, ethnicity, disability, geographic, etc.)? To what extent will it enhance the infrastructure for research and education, such as facilities, instrumentation, networks, and partnerships? Will the results be disseminated broadly to enhance scientific and technological understanding? What may be the benefits of the proposed activity to society?"

Research Councils UK (RCUK) defines research impact as "the demonstrable contribution that excellent research makes to society and the economy. Research impact embraces all the diverse ways that research-related skills benefit individuals, organisations and nations. These include:

  • fostering global economic performance, and specifically the economic competitiveness of the United Kingdom;
  • increasing the effectiveness of public services and policy; and
  • enhancing quality of life, health and creative output."

"Research impact describes the effects and outcomes, in terms of value and benefit, as a result of research outputs." Source: Primary Health Care Research & Information Service. Flinders University, Adelaide, Australia.

“Research has a societal impact when auditable or recorded influence is achieved upon non-academic organisation(s) or actor(s) in a sector outside the university sector itself—for instance, by being used by one or more business corporations, government bodies, civil society organisations, media or specialist/professional media organisations or in public debate." Source:Wilsdon J, et al. (2015). The Metric Tide: Report of the Independent Review of the Role of Metrics in Research Assessment and Management.