#1 Remember that impact can be about potential
This is not about committing to what you ‘definitely will do’ with this research. Try to think instead about ‘what could be done’.
Research is still the pursuit of novel information. If you knew what the results were going to be, there would be little point in doing it. So think in terms of possibilities.
If everything worked out beautifully, what could be an outcome? If there really, truly isn’t one, it might be OK to ask yourself: ‘Why am I doing this?’ The answer could start your impact case. If you don’t have an answer. . . sit down and have a think.
#2 Be specific about impact in your proposal
Impact may be about possibility, but you still need to be clear about what those possibilities are.
If you mention public engagement, know with whom, when and where you will be engaging.
Going to a conference? Where? When? What will you do there and why?
Working with schools? What is the name of the school? Have you emailed the head to discuss?
#3 Take a lesson from Rudyard Kipling
The famous poet once wrote of his ‘Six Honest Serving Men…’: Who? What? Where? Why? How? And When?
You may not be a poet (and your PhD may not be in literature) but including these details in your proposal will make your impact statement much clearer – and more persuasive.
#4 Look for people you can work with (and benefit from)
Think about specific groups that might be interested in your research. The list of potential stakeholders (or beneficiaries) may not be limited to your specific academic field.
Think about schools, local interest groups, policy makers, online forums and special-interest publications or web-sites.
Reaching out to 15 specific people can have more impact than a million uninterested ones.
A big part of impact is about opening your research up to other groups. It’s never too early to consider how you can do that. Or start doing it.
Social media has opened up a whole new arena of networking possibilities. Think about how you might use them.
Talk to people currently doing research you are interested in. Talk to wider groups with related interests.
And don’t just talk: try summarising the current field and writing your thoughts about this. You can do this in on-line publications, your own blog or even 140 characters.
After all, academic journals are great for your CV but very few of them are ever actually read. We now have more ways than ever of getting a message out there and learning from many other people with perspectives you may not ever have thought of.