This research project contributes towards a more sophisticated, reflexive and contextualised understanding of research impact.

  • Project dates: 2019–2020
  • Project Partners: Research & Innovation (R&I) and Enhancing Capability Platforms (ECP) RMIT & RMIT’s College of Business

This research project contributes towards a more sophisticated, reflexive and contextualised understanding of research impact so as to help improve the capacities of researchers at RMIT and beyond to achieve positive research impact. 

Research impact (RI) represents the contemporary drive by the public and private sectors for researchers, and research institutions to prove their importance and relevance to society. While as a social intervention, all research has some effect on society and it is not necessarily positive, the RI agenda focuses on the returns, benefits and value of deliberate research processes, including but not limited to the generation of new knowledge. Underpinning this drive for more impactful research is a push to make universities more accountable to funders and growing awareness of the need for cooperative efforts to tackle the “grand challenges” facing the world (as encapsulated by the UN Sustainable Development Goals). 

RI is generally understood as the ultimate influence or change that research practices produce, not just internally within an institution but externally in the wider world. It tries to extend the view beyond research outputs (e.g. journal articles), or proximate outcomes (e.g. a new procedure in the health industry), to more distal impacts (e.g. reduced mortality). How RI is defined, however, varies. Groups differ widely in what they think should constitute impact, how to best cultivate it and what the role of researchers should be in the context of their other demands. Many countries are working to increase and demonstrate the societal impact of their research. 

Across these contexts, there is a need for research into how RI is being pursued in practice. There is a notable dearth of such literature from the Australian context. 

We began to address this dearth through a review of existing literature and analysis of collected data from interviews with eleven leading researchers at RMIT. Insights from this analysis were triangulated to construct preliminary findings and formulate recommendations on how researchers in Enabling Capability Platform Opportunity Fund projects, at RMIT and beyond can progressively build positive research impact. The knowledge generation and key insights from our project and two workshops conducted (including at RMIT’s Engaging for Impact 2020 conference) are being synthesised into several key outputs that highlight the implications of 2nd Generation RI for researchers, research teams and universities, and the research sector more broadly in navigating towards creating genuine yet critical research impact. 


  • Literature review of existing research on the impact agenda 
  • Document analysis of existing tools and resources for generating impact 
  • Semi-structured interviews with ECP 2017 Opportunity Fund leaders 
  • Participatory workshop with key stakeholders and research leaders at RMIT 
  • Interactive conference workshop/presentation at EFI 2020 


  • Awareness of what RMIT researchers are already doing to pursue and generate impact 
  • Broad understanding of the RI tools and resources that are available and accessible 
  • Locally relevant support and resources for researchers at RMIT 
  • Help generate a community of practice for 2nd Gen research impact 


  • More impact literate researchers and research teams at RMIT 
  • A distinctive local culture and ethos of critical research impact at RMIT

Key People

Lead researchers

Associate Professor Lauren Rickards

Associate Professor Lauren Rickards

Convener of Climate Change Transformations Program

Associate Professor Wendy Steele

Associate Professor Wendy Steele

Convener of Critical Urban Governance Program

Rethinking Research Impact

Dr. Olga Kakshagina

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Oli Moraes

Oli Moraes

Research Assistant

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