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The Impact Initiative has closed. This website has now been archived and will no longer be updated.

Top tips interviews: getting from research to impact

May 2016

We’re asked time and time again what are the ‘key ingredients’ involved in successfully influencing change through research? At the recent ESRC-DFID Impact Conference, I asked researchers, practitioners and funders to share their best piece of advice from their own experience.

Some of the answers might be obvious, and some not so much, but all of them quite often get missed somewhere along the line. See below for the top tips for researchers on turning their research into impact, including links to ten video clips where interviewees expand on these points. I hope you find them useful!

1. Plan for impact from the start

From the very conception of a research project you need to think about what change you are trying to achieve, who you’ll need to involve to do this and what resources are required. Sridhar Venkatapuram (Kings College London) says that dissemination and influence should be central to each stage of the project, and not left as a ‘tag on’ at the end.

Melanie Knetsch (ESRC) offers practical advice on building an impact strategy by recommending, as a starting point, that researchers visit the ESRC’s Impact Toolkit, which provides the basics on how to think about the impact of your research.

Also Andrew Long (DFID) suggests that to ensure impact, the inclusion of a specific role, where someone is responsible for developing relationships and managing a project’s ‘impact pathway’ within research proposals is a strong start!

Sridhar Venkatapuram - top tips for research impact


Mel Knetsch - top tips for research impact


Andrew long - top tips for research impact


2. Involve stakeholders in the research process

Bringing in stakeholders into the research process so that they play a more active role overall is a popular point. Many interviewees explain that by involving them from the outset they are more likely to understand and trust the process and the outcomes, and therefore be positively influenced by them.

Tisunge Zuwaki (Centre for Social Research, University of Malawi) notes the importance of doing a preliminary needs assessment with beneficiaries and working with them to establish appropriate research methods. She explains that this helps the research process have greater value and impact for them. In addition she recommends that including NGOs at each stage of the project is essential.

In terms of policy impact, Maria Kett’s (Leonard Cheshire Disability and Inclusive Development Centre) advice is that from the start get people involved who have influence over policy in your research area, at national and local levels, so they know what you are doing and can use your research easily. Subindra Bogati (Nepal Peacebuilding Initiative) agrees with this, and states the need to involve the people who will implement the research, for example government officials, which helps bring about change from within.


Tisunge Zuwaki - top tips for research impact


Maria Kett - top tips for research impact

Subindra Bogati - top tips for research impact

3. Understand the political landscape you’re operating in

As all development work is inherently political Emma Crewe (School of African and Oriental Studies) advocates for all researchers doing an ethnography of the political landscape they’re working in. She explains that you really need to listen carefully to people to understand what’s going on around them. By understanding the actors and their needs, conflicts, timings and opportunities this will help to build relationships that are much more interesting and realistic, and likely to influence genuine change.

Richard Fatorma Ngafuan (Ministry of Labour, Republic of Liberia) highlights that through engaging various stakeholders in the research process this not only creates understanding and confidence in the process, but can also importantly help mobilise people to create change.

Emma Crewe - top tips for research impact

Richard Fatorma Ngafuan - top tips for research impact

4. Make your research accessible

Once your work in underway and you’re starting to share information and findings with various stakeholders make sure that people can clearly understand what the research is saying.

Amos Zaindi (Self Help Africa) recommends that if researchers really want stakeholders including users to understand and apply the research they should avoid using overly complex language when explaining and disseminating it. He points out that people in rural communities and smallholder famers look for practical and simple solutions.

Explaining research to people who are non-experts, Sridhar Venkatapuram says, is also vital for supporting policy change because academics themselves don’t make policy. Making this effort to translate complex language into more accessible formats helps to build a bridge between academic research and policymaking.

Amos Zaindi - top tips for research impact

5. Be flexible and open to change yourself!

During your research be open to questions and challenges, especially around language, as this is a potential route for gaining a deeper understanding. As Elaine Unterhalter (Institute of Education, University of London) states, this will have a big impact on your own perceptions as well as on broader discourse. She recommends that if your research process exposes very different concepts, social relations and/or structures from your original expectations then don’t be afraid to explore this and ‘go into the eye of the typhoon and push around’.

Elaine Unterhalter - top tips for research impact


What are your key ingredients for turning research into impact? Send me, Elaine Mercer, your top tips at



Related ESRC-DFID Joint Fund Projects:

Emma Crewe:

Parliamentary effectiveness: public engagement for poverty reduction in Bangladesh and Ethiopia

Richard Fatorma Ngafuan:

Understanding the political and institutional conditions for effective poverty reduction for persons with disabilities in Liberia

Maria Kett:

Bridging the gap: examining disability and development in four African countries

Understanding the political and institutional conditions for effective poverty reduction for persons with disabilities in Liberia

Elaine Unterhalter:

Gender, education and global poverty reduction initiatives

Sridhar Venkatapuram:

Proposal to conceptually integrate social determinants of health research and capabilities approach to development and social justice

Amos Zaindi:

Impact assessment based on self-reported attribution in complex contexts of rural livelihood transformations in Africa.

Tisunge Zuwaki:

The impact of mobile phones on young people's lives and life chances in sub-Saharan Africa: a three country study to inform policy and practice

Children, transport and mobility in sub-Saharan Africa: developing a child-centred evidence base to improve policy and change thinking across Africa

Related blogs

Emma Cewe:

The politics of doing research on politics in Africa

Andrew Long:

Can research speak to policy?


The Impact Initiative blog posts are either from individual researchers or from major research programmes. Some of the blog posts are original source and are written by researchers and experts connected to the two research programmes jointly funded by ESRC and FCDO: the Joint Fund for Poverty Alleviation Research and the Raising Learning Outcomes in Education Systems Research Programme. Other blog posts are imported from related websites and programmes. 

The views expressed in these blogs reflect the opinions of each individual and may not represent the Institute of Development Studies, the University of Cambridge, ESRC or FCDO.


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