Eight easy ways to retell your impact story

The academic landscape is changing. Whilst blue skies research remains fascinating, research councils, funders and university assessors now want to know why your research matters. They all ask, “What impact will it make?”

Perhaps the work stimulates invention, changes policy or informs practise. Funders want to know how your previous work benefits society and how they will get value for money from future projects.

Image: Calvinius - http://bit.ly/1hFGXQE.

Today the Research Evaluation Framework (REF) is assessing British universities on their research impact; the results will be published later this year. But universities should not sit idly waiting for results.

As early as last autumn institutions had begun to utilise the impact information collected for REF in website copy and PR materials. These universities were savvy. Any university that successfully shares its impact stories will grab the attention of potential partners, prospective students and businesses; it will get better value from its REF submissions.

But how can you integrate impact information into communication channels and campaigns?

It is easy to transform impact case studies into PR materials and get some extra benefit from REF submissions. Having assisted a major university with this process we are experts in this field.

Here are our eight top tips to promote your impact story:

  1. Web content

Your impact story needs to be available to readers online. Potential students, researchers, businesses, collaborators and funders will want to know that your research has application, so make it easy for them to find out more about your success.

Image: C!..., http://bit.ly/1gNYAEK

Liaise with colleagues, speak to management and decide what action you want people to take when they read about your impact. This will be different for different audiences, but online copy must cater for all!

Now you know the goals for your story, rewrite the case study in ways to emphasise the key messages which will encourage readers to take action – another click, an email enquiry or sharing the story with others.

Your content can take many forms – think about adding researcher interviews, videos, reports, ‘behind the scenes’ insights and ‘what next’ pieces to enhance the core impact narrative.

  1. Develop an impact communication strategy

Building a clear and comprehensive communication strategy for your institution (or just for your research group) is a great way to ensure that you use impact data and narratives effectively. Once you have published impact-related content you should think about how to promote it. Don’t rely on Google or people coming to you. The chances are that they won’t be looking specifically for ‘proof of impact’, so this is a message you have to promote yourself.

You can promote this content whenever you communicate with stakeholders – through newsletters, magazines, brochures, events, conference presentations, emails, press releases, Tweets, Instagram and more! There are so many channels where you can talk about how your work changes the world in ways big and small.

  1. Send out an impact newsletter

The impact your work has had in the last six years will remain important and interesting to people for years to come. The examples you highlighted for your REF case studies were selected for a reason: these are your big successes! Don’t be afraid to use them wherever and whenever you can so they become integrated into your institution’s corporate identity, part of its heritage and legend handed down through the generations.

An impact newsletter is a great way to start. You can retell stories in so many ways, repurpose existing web content and revisit the same stories time and again with new updates.

Email newsletters can also link through to more technical data and pages as well as up-to-the minute news on related projects and events – demonstrating the on going impact of your work.

  1. Build an impact microsite

Now that everyone knows about the importance of impact you should not hide it. Specific pages about impact are now essential at every level of your institution’s websites.

A microsite separated from your main web pages is another great way to tell your impact stories. By giving it a high profile and working to keep it fresh and up-to-date, you are helping to promote the impact agenda across your organisation. And you are already gathering new evidence for future impact assessments too!

A microsite provides web users with a central location where they can obtain a full overview of the impact of your institution’s research portfolio. It gives a compelling, consistent story rather than fragmented titbits scattered and hidden across hundreds of pages.

Image: ErAnger, http://bit.ly/1h7ge0x.

In this era of big data, you could also develop interactive visualisations to help users assess impact and identify suitable stories to read.

You could make use of different channels and get feedback and insights from those that your work has benefitted, producing curated content that will give people more information about your impact.

  1. Incorporate impact in blogging

Many academics like to blog, so why not make impact a favourite subject? Blogs offer a relatively easy way to develop content and ideas that will associate research activities with impact.

However, the main purpose of your blogging is not to create content to compete with other blogs. See it as an additional communication channel that you control and can use in conjunction with other methods to reach out to your audiences.

  1. Create impact-related press briefing packs

Image: Goun, http://bit.ly/1k4xPLq

Whether for central PR teams, targeted journalists, or just to use whenever someone is interested in a story about you, creating a press briefing pack that includes precise details and measures about your impact – including some of those impact ‘legends’ – will keep reminding the press about the difference your research makes. Before long they will start to ask about impact whenever they research a story.

Try and make it easy for journalists to quote you and link your latest news to previous impact.

  1. Build impact into print brochures or reports

Create some print documents and distribute them at events and by mail to select stakeholders.

There are many possible themes that these pieces could have, for example:Image: Sean Winters, http://bit.ly/1m2YI21

  • What we did in 2013
  • Our story: 2007-2013
  • The difference we make
  • Why our work matters
  • 2013 in figures
  • Notes from the field

Incorporating quotes from the beneficiaries of your research alongside data, infographics and a clear call to action will help ensure that this content is valuable.

  1. Writing articles and stories

Creating articles, opinion pieces, guest blog posts, and other material for the media is also a good way of widening the audience for your impact information. The whole impact issue is a hot topic for all media covering the HE sector, so any pieces or opinions you can offer that contribute to the debate will be welcomed by editors, journalists and the blogging community.


  • Produce clear web content – make it easy to find.
  • Include precise facts and statistics to demonstrate impact.
  • Promote impact every time you communicate with stakeholders.
  • Shout about your impact in newsletters, blogs and press releases.
  • Consider the on-going impact of research.
  • Make a microsite to collate your content with quotes from people who benefit from your work.
  • Put it in print – brochures, reports and news articles.


Filed under: Communication strategy,dissemination,science writing,Tips,University issues | By Deborah on May 23, 2014 at 6:56 am

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