'Making and Measuring Impact' workshop was organised by the National Centre for Research Methods. This one-day course helped me to reflect on the aims of my PhD project, reminding me why
I decided to research 'social change' in the first place.
The workshop was facilitated by Dr Sarah Morton and Lesley Kelly from the Centre for Research on Families and Relationships. The training session took place in Belfast at the beautiful campus of Queen's University.
I am particularly interested in the work of the Centre for Research on Families and Relationships, as they play an important role in researching the role of digital media among children and youth (click here to find out more about their Digital Families event happening in November). In fact, in 2015, I had an opportunity to lead one of their training sessions called 'Using Digital Media in Research with Young People' . At that time, I was working as a Digital Youth Hub Co-ordinator with Fife Youth Arts and really appreciated the opportunity to share our work with a wider, academic audience (you can view our Storify from the workshop below).
I still clearly remember the Q&A session, which followed 'Using Digital Media in Research with Young People' presentation and one of the workshop participant's comment regarding our digital youth work in Fife:
"That's all looking very good, but how do you measure your social impact?"
I didn't have a clear answer. I remember suggesting that 'the stories of our young people at Fife Youth Arts, clearly show the impact of our digital training'. After all, they were advocating their work around the country - including the session at the Centre for Research on Families and Relationships. However, I knew that my answer wasn’t good enough. My listeners were keen to learn about the social impact of digital youth activities - not only to understand the value of their work but also to be able to share the results with the funders.
It was during that session, that I decided to consider social impact more seriously in my work and to investigate research opportunities in this area.
In 2016, I embarked on my PhD adventure, aiming to research the social impact of digital youth co-creation in Scotland. As am I still in my first year, I’m spending most of my time indoors, doing literature review. Occasionally, as a postgraduate student, I’m trying to take the full advantage of networking and training opportunities. I was therefor very excited to see ‘Making and Measuring Impact’ course organised by researchers from the Centre for Research on Families and Relationships. The aim of the course was to analyse the importance of research impact and identify ways to measure it. Below are some of my key things I learned from the course:
1. Defining my Impact Statement
One of the first tasks during the workshop, was to create an Outcome Forced StatementWhat difference will it make?So what?. This exercise forced me to think a specific target audience of my research and the ‘social change’ it will bring about. The tricky part about this exercise, was the fact that the statement had to be very precise and combined from just a couple of sentences. Since the key goal of my project is to find a framework to measure social change, it was particularly difficult to define its social impact. After all, I still have another 3 years to work on my project, how can I possibly predict the impact of my research? However, Dr Sarah Morton helped to navigate around my concept. Questions such as: , where very useful when defining my possible research outcomes. and
I enjoyed this task for several reasons. Firstly, it reminded me of the idea of a vision board – having a clear defined goal, helps me to make sure to keep on track. Secondly, it helped me to create a defined and detailed explanation of my research aim, covering questions such as : who, where and what difference. Lastly, it encouraged me to think about specific groups that might benefit from my work and why.
The task wasn’t easy and as you can see from the images below, my Outcome Forced Statements is still work in progress.
2. Research Impact - sharing is caring
One of the reasons why I was quite hesitant to join academia in the first place, was the fact that research always felt quite distant from my practical work. Yes, I would sometimes check digital youth reports online, but most of the time I simply did not have enough time to review the information in details. As a research student, I feel super privileged to be able to spend hours reading into academic’s work. Research outcomes are indeed fascinating, but it is essential to dedicate some time to get know it well.
The problem of research and its accessibility was discussed at the workshop. Dr Sarah Morton clearly stated that in order to create social impact, research needs to be communicated. The work of researchers could potentially influence society both on the local as well as international level. Knowledge needs to be shared and actively co-produced with communities, research outcomes is vital in influencing ‘social change’.
I was particular inspired with some of the unique and creative methods of communicating research outcomes mentioned during the workshop. One of the workshops participants outlined examples of researchers and artist’s collaborations in Sheffield. Can creative representation of research actually democratize its usage? How do I make sure that my research outcomes are easily accessible? These are just some of the questions I need to consider in my future work.
3. Measuring social impact is hard work
As much as understand the importance of making and measuring social impact, I realised that is also a quite demanding job. In a way, this is the reason why I decided to carry out my research. I’d like to create an accessible and time-effective tool/model for digital youth practitioners to document their impact. In the ideal world, my social impact tool would be participatory, bring people joy and solid evidence of the social change they bring about. Simple right? Well, the one-day workshop proved to me that the process is more complex.
it. Impact can in fact be a very dynamic, multidimensional and continuous process. Unless we set a specific time boundary, social impact of a particular project could be updated on a regular basis, forever.
Dr Saraha Morton introduced us to a useful concept of impact pathway, something similar to Participatory Impact Pathways Analysis is discussed in my other post. I really like to think about a social impact as a journey – creating problem trees, impact maps and pathways. At the moment I’m still not clear how this rhetoric could be useful in my own research area.
However, for now, I am happy to allow my social impact research to take me on a journey. Let’s how it develop over the next three years.