Making an Impact- Engaging Academics, Liverpool University

We launched our ‘Making an Impact Week’ six years ago after we recognised that research impact isn’t just about deliverables but about motivating and engaging people about KE and that wider cultural change. This annual event has evolved to cover five weeks and now includes between 70-85 sessions. The event brings together early career and established researchers, Deans, professional services colleagues and postgraduate researchers from all career levels and disciplines.

1. Please provide a brief description of the KE project/ case study and why you believe it is considered good practice or innovative. What challenge were you trying to address?

When we started this project, we were operating in a post-REF 2014 context, and we wanted to improve our Impact performance.  The overarching driver was in pursuing what is core to our university mission- the enhancement of learning and the ennoblement of life. It also directly aligns with our research and impact policy. 

When we were thinking about how we could improve our research impact, we decided to launch a ‘Making an Impact Week’ to give it focus and concentration. This initial, one week programme launched six years ago through HEIF funding. It came about after we recognised that research impact isn’t just about deliverables but about motivating and engaging people about KE and that wider cultural change. This annual event has evolved to cover five weeks and now includes a huge number and breadth of sessions focusing on a wide range of practice. We organize anywhere between 70-85 sessions and the length varies between 15 minute research impact surgeries to three-hour social media bootcamps and masterclasses on how to speak with industry. The event brings together early career and established researchers, Deans, professional services colleagues and postgraduate researchers from all career levels and disciplines.

2. Where did the idea for the project/ programme come from? Was this related to a strategic objective? How did you secure senior buy in?

It was a bottom-up idea from our professional service colleagues and we had a lot of support from our PVC and VC. They have supported the programme by delivering key notes speeches and chairing sessions by notable R&D leaders across the country.

3. What impact/ outcome has this project/ activity had on your university? Students? Local economy? Staff? Other external parties, e.g. businesses.

The impacts have been wide ranging.

Our biggest success factor is the REF results. Of course, we had done a lot to help raise our game across the whole institution and this is just one small part but nonetheless, we have experienced a huge jump in terms of our performance on impact in REF 2021

The programme has gained the university a reputation for good engagement with KE and we were even shortlisted for Praxis Auril’s KE academic engagement of the year award in 2021.

The event has also opened up new partnerships with our N8 Research partners and alumni who have come in and delivered sessions as well as attending. Each year we have over 150 external colleagues delivering sessions.

Finally, we were one of the first universities in the sector to be twinned with a Ukrainian university and after sharing our sessions with them, they said how much it has helped them to build connections and foster research connections.

4. How did you measure impact?

We produce comprehensive reports every year and include both qualitative and quantitative impacts with testimonies and Likert scale responses.

We also use the Kirkpatrick evaluation model which uses a 4-stage survey response analysis, including immediate responses to impact initiatives, looking at behaviour and changes and then six months later, looking at practice and longer term outcomes a year later. We also use surveys and work with the guidance of a wholly representative steering group to ask what are the kinds of sessions attendees would like to see next year and through that evidence, we can identify specific examples where they engaged with a specific partner.

5. What types of resources were required to implement this project? 

The event itself is fully HEIF funded. Our steering group helps to inform the programme- so the biggest resource is their time and senior level buy in and support is a key success factor. Securing others’ time to chair sessions is unquantifiable and most externals’ contributions are all based on goodwill.

The logistics and groundwork to deliver the five-week event is managed by two full time people on top of other researcher development activities. We’ve been doing it for a number of years now though so the processes involved are all very straightforward. Now there is some brand recognition so people recognise us when we approach them.

We also make the sessions available to the N8 Research Partnership as a way of sharing good practice.

6. What are the governance structures in place to oversee it?

Our steering group helps to keep us on track and shape the programme. In terms of the governance, you want it to add lift and not weight. We don’t want or need really heavy governance but instead engage people to help craft the programme and deliver.

The steering group includes 25 people from across the Research, Partnerships and Impact Directorate, staff network representatives, established researchers, Prosper Project, careers and employability representatives, alumni, postdocs and researcher development representatives. The group meets at least once a year as a formal meeting to take stock of the previous year and make a plan for the upcoming year’s programme. We also maintain regular communication via email and a number of steering group members also help co-deliver and chair sessions.

7. Describe any challenges that you have had to overcome either before, during or after implementing this project?

The key is to get senior leadership buy in but also the right level of leadership and management on the project. If you don’t have the right quality of people leading and developing the project, it may not take off. We’re also lucky to have had HEIF funding which gives us stability of funding over five years.

Some of the more obvious challenges are always down to logistics around booking space, accommodation and timetabling.

8. What advice would you give others in trying to engage with hard-to-reach groups? 

We try to target early career researchers. We also try to engage with different staff networks such as the BAME network and LGBT staff network to answer calls for more diverse speakers.

9. Next steps?

It’s a labour of love for us. Getting something of the right scale is really important- but not too big that it gets diluted. We want it to continue to be responsive, engaging and fresh and hope it will continue to bring new energy and ideas whilst continuing to meet the aspirations off our colleagues at Liverpool University.

Ultimately, we want to see amazing impacts coming out of Liverpool’s knowledge exchange work.  We want to change the world. 

making an impact liverpool

© 2020 National Centre for Universities and Business V 1.1.0