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 This website has now been archived and will no longer be updated.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 This website has now been archived and will no longer be updated.

Blog: Research impact - make it, don’t fake it

Artwork: Jorge Martin. Picture: IDS/Flickr. © All Rights Reserved

Jan 2018

As a former journalist, I like to tell good stories. Stripping away the complexity and the jargon, I like narratives to have a beginning, middle and, where possible, a happy ending. But in international development storytelling isn’t always easy and we rarely reach a satisfactory ending.

The world can be messy. Despite best intentions and clearly mapped pathways to impact, projects often have to adapt to accommodate the competing needs of partners, budget restrictions and general uncertainty. 

Amongst all of this there are also the increasing pressures to demonstrate to research funders and commissioners that money has been well spent and that impact has been achieved. Some people are clearly good at making big claims and “faking it til they make it”, but to my mind telling people what they want to hear is one of the biggest pitfalls of evidence sharing.

Complexities of the policy development process

A recent impact evaluation of the ESRC-DFID Joint Fund for Poverty Alleviation Research, recognised the complexities of the policy development process, and the multifaceted nature of social science impact. It may be several years before the relevance of some work is fully recognised and for changes to take place. Recognising this is important as it forces us to think about the importance of incremental change and to really drill down into the details of a story. To support social science researchers to achieve impactful research, ESRC provides an Impact Toolkit which includes practical information, approaches and best practice in this area.

Impact stories that demonstrate how ESRC-DFID research is improving lives in positive ways

A new series of impact stories produced by the Impact Initiative, examines a range of challenges that occurred during the research process, the different approaches taken, and how barriers in achieving impact were overcome. Ultimately, these stories also demonstrate how research funded through the ESRC-DFID Strategic Partnership is improving the lives of people around the world in positive ways.

The stories are wide ranging – from Reducing teenage pregnancy in Sierra Leone, to Improving rural lives through the Liberian motorbike boom to paving the way for improved learning and Reducing school dropout rates in Malawi and Lesotho. As a collection of stories they provide easy access to project outcomes and insights that may help to progress understanding of wider development issues. But these stories do not require you to be an expert to appreciate them. They are clearly told without being oversimplified. The intention is that as individual stories they are a good read that will ultimately stimulate thought provoking discussions and contribute to wider change.

I hope you enjoy them. 

Drawing on the experiences of ESRC-DFID funded reseachers, the Impact Initiative offers a range of practical resources for knowledge practitioners, researchers and research funders
The Impact Lab

The lab includes: impact stories; learning guides; and an edited collection  of articles on evidence for development.

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.


The Impact Initiative welcomes comments.  To enable a healthy environment for discussion we reserve the rights to remove comments if they are considered abusive or disruptive. All comments are reactively moderated. This means that comments are usually only checked if a complaint is made about them.