The Importance of Impact by Gideon Maas author of Systemic Entrepreneurship

© SpringerMuch is written about the impact of research recently; it is one of the “hot topics” within academia right now. More-and-more researchers are expected to demonstrate what the impact of their research is. This emphasis on impact is the result of changes in funding formulas, the increased number of research projects applying for funding, and external challenges such as finding solutions for the recent world-wide recession. Researchers who can showcase positive impact of their studies are in a better position applying for research funding. However, indicating impact is not always a straightforward measurement. The Research Councils UK’s (RCUK) definition of impact is 'the demonstrable contribution that excellent research makes to society and the economy'. In addition, the Research Excellence Framework of the UK (REF) defines impact as ‘any effect on, change or benefit to the economy, society, culture, public policy or services, health, the environment or quality of life, beyond academia’. In other words, impact can be demonstrated with evidence that shows your research addresses a problem and provides potential solutions to stakeholders within a specific region, country or organisation.

How do case studies contribute to impact?

Various research methodologies can be utilised to indicate impact – the use of case studies is one such instrument. In general, case studies refer to the in-depth analysis of a phenomenon, participant or group within its real-life context. Because of the size of the sample under investigation, conclusions drawn from case studies are not generalizable and can only apply for that specific research. Case studies are especially handy to explore or to describe a specific situation. Using additional data collection instruments such as secondary data resources and interviews can provide a deeper understanding of that specific situation. Typically, case studies are used as basis for a more intensive debate which can lead to more detailed research over a wider spectrum. Although case studies are used to conduct detailed and intensive analysis of a single or limited number of cases, a multiple case study approach can provide richer contextual data than single cases. Case studies can therefore support a deeper debate into specific areas leading to more informed decision-making. The latter can result in the development or improvement of existing policies, legislation, or other support interventions which all have the potential of showcasing improved impact.

Some general advice

There are various publications on how to write case studies and should be consulted before embarking on to this journey. However, my 5 most important lessons learnt are as follows:

  • Make sure that the aim of the case study is precisely defined – that will make the “measurement” of the potential impact far easier.
  • Create a sound theoretical basis for the case study – that will allow for a more structured approach and a deeper evaluation of the case study.
  • Collect as many facts as possible. Although case studies are typically qualitative in nature, it is no excuse for a lack of factual data. The deeper you explore the more relevant your findings would be.
  • Link case study to existing policies/legislation/development interventions to illustrate how it is supporting existing activities or why you are suggesting more futuristic activities.
  • Invite a debate on your findings from academia and industry before finalising your case study. This way finer detail can be picked up which can enrich your findings and potential impact.

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