Lesson 1, Topic 1
In Progress

Policy Impact

What is a policy impact?
Research impact can be defined as:

Demonstrable and/or perceptible benefits to individuals, groups, organisations and society (including human and non-human entities in the present and future) that are causally linked (necessarily or sufficiently) to research.

Public policy distributes unequal benefits and burdens across populations, sometimes by design and sometimes as an unintended consequence. As such, while it is useful to pursue a normative definition of impact on policy as seeking to help deliver public benefits, you should keep a critical eye on who actually benefits, versus who ends up being disadvantaged in some way when a policy is implemented.

In addition to considering impacts arising as a result of a new policy, you may also want to consider impacts that occur prior to any policy change. This is important because the policy process often takes much longer than you expect, and having tangible benefits for the people who are hoping for change in the meantime can be important in keeping them engaged and motivated to continue working with you.

You will notice that each of the early impacts in the video above are not just engagement processes; they meet the definition of impact as a benefit. It is therefore crucial to be clear on the difference between impact and engagement, to ensure the time you spend engaging with policy networks actually drives benefits and avoids wasting your time and the time of your policy colleagues. Writing a consultation response or policy brief is not – in itself – a policy impact; neither is leading a high-level policy seminar or giving evidence to a committee or inquiry. Each of these activities is an important way of engaging with policy, and you will learn more about these sorts of activities in Module 3. However, in and of themselves, they do not benefit anyone – yet. In the worst-case scenario, your policy brief might not be read by anyone, your consultation response might be completely misunderstood, and the oral evidence you delivered might be ignored. In these cases, there is no change, or there could be a negative unintended consequence (in the case of being misunderstood), so you cannot claim any of this activity as impact.

This is not to denigrate the importance of these activities; without good engagement, you will never stand a chance of achieving any policy impact. But it is the first step, and you will need to keep pursuing your objective of delivering tangible benefits long after your first engagement. You will need to monitor your success as you go and change tack when it looks like your approach isn’t working. Successful policy engagement takes time and perseverance.