Funding: Impact as part of research grants and other funding schemes
So you’ve got an idea for a project. You’ve identified what the purpose of the project will be, who it is you wish to target/work with, and finally devised how you’re going to do it. But now you need resource to help make it happen.
Before you start
Watch the below animation on planning effective public engagement.
Sources of funding
There are many different sources for funding, including via research grants and dedicated public engagement schemes from learned societies and charities.
You can also search 'public engagement' on Research Professional (requires single sign-on).
There is a University-wide seed fund, which usually runs in Michaelmas Term each year. Check the University PER portal for updates.
UKRI schemes: Whilst Pathways to Impact is no longer part of research grant proposals, you are still encouraged to include impact-generating activities as part of your case for support. We made a handy resource to help researchers think about and write their Pathways to Impact and the same principles apply.
- Check the eligibility and selection criteria before you start: make sure you can apply and that you shape your proposal to address selection criteria. E.g., does the scheme have any specific target audiences, approaches or requirements for evaluation? They might use specific terminology that refers to particular types of engagement activity. Make sure you understand these and use the correct terminology.
- What is your 'big idea' - can you summarise your pitch in a single short sentence? Think about the benefits to you and your chosen public constituencies. What would success look like? Articulate these as SMART objectives. Focussing on one or two key outcomes will help keep your project focused, relevant and feasible.
- Think about how your plans build on, or link to, things that already exist or are already going on in your institution/community: avoid duplication. Where innovation is specifically stipulated, a proposal that is going to do something new, either for your context or a new approach, will probably be more attractive to funders.
- Be ambitious but realistic. Separate what you could actually do in the time permitted and with the resources available from your long-term ambitions. It can helpful to think through a 'theory of change' to differentiate between short-term changes and how they contribute to longer-term impacts. Can you pitch your bid for funding as a 'first step' or first phase on which you would aim to build later? I.e., think about the riskiness of this project and whether you need a 'proof of principle' or 'pilot' phase before pitching for a much larger project.
- Make sure your budget is properly justified: don't just include vague headings like 'travel'. Describe what and how many is included, e.g., 'Return travel to three festivals, for six researchers @£80pp'. Make sure your costings are realistic (p3), e.g., £500 will unlikely cover a quality animation created by a professional (though there are always alternatives depending on what you want to achieve, how much time and effort you're prepared to commit and so on) so always check with providers or suppliers and get quotes where you can. Here are some example costings (page 3).
- Think about both material costs and also the time and skills it will take to make your plans realistic; will the project require coordination? Is there capacity within existing staff to take this on (this may be in your team, department or institution)? If not, will you need to buy-out time, or employ someone with a specific skill-set?
- Do not use the term 'General Public'. It is too vague, and too broad. The general public includes everyone – if your purpose is clear and targeted then the 'general public' will likely be inappropriate or irrelevant and such a target will be unachievable for most projects to have a measurable outcome. Some funders have their own definitions of who the 'public' are. Others will have specific audiences, such as 'girls and women', 'those geographically remote from science' or 'disadvantaged groups', that they are particularly interested in. Many schemes explicitly state that they will not consider grants that have 'the general public' stated as a target audience.
- Are you including a named individual in an application? Contact them to let them know and check that your plans are fine.
- Gather the evidence for your previous successes, or your relevant experience/expertise: what have you done and why was it successful? It's a good habit to keep a portfolio of such evidence (e.g., if you wish to apply for awards or evidence impact) but will also make filling in 'track record' sections on applications much easier. This could be a word document, spreadsheet, via research output platforms, or a blog.
- Make sure you include plans for evaluation – how will you be able to know and show whether the project was a success? Make this proportionate and appropriate to the approach and scale of the project. For larger projects, consider engaging an evaluation specialist.
- Are there any groups in your institution or community who you could partner with? Often collaborative bids tend to be seen in a more favourable light. Consider collaborating with a public engagement expert or organisation. Does an organisation exist that works with your target audience? Could you involve them in the planning or delivery to help make the project a success?
- Be clear. Make it easy for the panel to understand. Show it to a friend who doesn't know your work and ask them to be brutally honest in their feedback. Narratives are great, however a simple format of, 'our aim is X. We will achieve this by Y', or using headings such as 'Aims', 'Key Audiences, 'Outputs' (what you will create/do) and 'Outcomes and Impacts' will help make your plans very clear. Note that many applications require submissions under these headings anyway.
- Make sure your application is well-written - spell check and ensure your grammar is correct. Reviewers are busy people and want something short and easy to read. Use figures instead of words wherever you can. Keep to word counts.
- Don't forget about the researchers! How will your plans benefit the research or build capacity for engagement – will the researchers or students you're working with benefit from training to make sure the resulting activities are high quality?
- What will the legacy be? Funders will often look favourably on projects that continue or contribute to something, in some form, after the project has ended. Think about this when planning – what could you do to ensure that any materials created will continue to be available? What learning from the project do you think you'll be able to share and pass on? Is there any way to deliver the activities such that they become sustainable and continue?
- Look at what has been funded previously. Many funders will provide examples of previously funded projects. They are usually happy to answer questions and discuss potential submissions.
Don't be put off if your first application isn't successful. Funding for public engagement is enormously competitive, but there are usually several schemes you can apply to. Keep trying!
Impact generating activities as part of research grants
Pathways to Impact may be gone but funders still expect researchers to consider and include impact-generating activities as part of their research grant proposals. We will update this section with more specific guidance once this is available from UKRI.
- Impacts are the changes that can occur as a result of research activity. It's the 'so what?'. These can be academic, but in funders also want you to specifically look at impacts beyond academia, which could be economic. environmental, cultural or social. You can find more detail and definitions on UKRI's website, and can read case studies of public engagement from the Division, the University, and beyond. This is why figuring out your purpose is so important – you need to be able to say what you would like to see change or happen.
- Draft these sections early on in the process so that it informs the design of the research. Engagement activities can take place throughout the lifecycle of a research project.
- You should incorporate information about impact throughout your case for support. You should briefly describe who the beneficiaries will be and what impacts you think your research could contribute to or create. You should also explain how you would work towards achieve those impacts.
- Your plans should be forward-looking and present a plan of what activities you will undertake during the lifetime of the grant to help work towards those impacts, though brief descriptions of past successes (track record) can be included to help justify the project's feasibility.
- Outputs are not outcomes and impacts. Your stated impact should not end with the creation of something, e.g., a podcast, website or workshop. How will people find and engage with anything you create? And then what? Make sure you answer the question 'so what?'.
- 'Bolt-on' engagement isn't appropriate. The activities need to be those that specifically help you achieve your stated impacts, so stating that you will do e.g. a schools workshop, if school aged children are not relevant to the impacts stated would not be appropriate.
- Don't just consider communication style activities; what opportunities are there for two-way engagement? What impacts on the research might engagement activities lead to? How might you involve publics in your research?
- The plans need to be about the research featured in the grant, by the researchers involved in the grant, and take place during the lifetime of the grant.
- You can, and should, request funds to resource your plan. Funders hold a separate pot to cover impact activities and so requesting funds will not affect the level of funding you can get for research. This should be proportionate to the size of the research grant. Note that you can use funding to pay consultants and PER professionals, e.g., graphic designers, PER evaluators, and so on.
- All else being equal, funders may choose what to fund on the basis of the plans for impact.
Need some advice?
Don't be in doubt. If you would like some advice or guidance on plans or want someone to check over your Pathways to Impact, Dr Michaela Livingstone, MPLS Public and Community Engagement with Research Manager, provides one-to-one support; simply email with your query.