The research to impact journey: an overview

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We describe the way research, promotion & engagement, knowledge exchange and impact fit together as an interative journey.

This document is the first of a series describing how CREDS maximises the impact of its research. This is the first, a framing document, which describes the journey from research to impact. There are three how to guides that complete the series.

  1. The research to impact journey: an overview
  2. How to promote research
  3. How to undertake knowledge exchange
  4. How to monitor and record impact

How do research, promotion, knowledge exchange and impact fit together?

In CREDS we describe the way these elements fit together as a journey, namely research, promotion & engagement, knowledge exchange and impact. Although this suggests the journey proceeds in a fairly linear manner, it is actually iterative and can start at any point. For example, research might emerge as a result of promotion, or knowledge exchange as a result of impact.

Research > Promotion & engagement > Knowledge exchange > Impact

What do we mean by research impact?

Impact is the ultimate goal underpinning the promotion, engagement and knowledge exchange activities that CREDS undertakes.

Impact is considered to be a change to society, economy or the environment. Here are a couple of definitions. Impact is:

  • The demonstrable contribution that excellent research makes to society and the economy (ESRC, 2022)
  • The intended and unintended, positive and negative, primary and secondary, long-term outcomes of an intervention on target groups (OECD, 2019, pdf).

The table below describes how activities and outputs lead to outcomes and, over time, to impact. Research is undertaken in columns 1&2, while promotion, engagement and knowledge exchange work to produce impact, takes place in columns 3-5.

Inputs Activities Outputs Outcomes Impact
Time, skills and material resources Research Materials based on, or adapted from, research Changes influenced by the research Measurable changes that occur (benefits)
e.g. grant funding, staff, equipment, proposal, planning e.g. data collection, running projects, writing papers, attending conferences e.g. academic papers, presentations, reports, briefings, consultations, blogs, articles, media, webinars e.g. inclusion in policy documents, changes in understanding, changes in design of technology e.g. lower energy demand, increased quality of life, fairer access to mobility

How can we achieve research impact?

In order to get from outputs to impact (columns 3-5), promotion, engagement and knowledge exchange are needed, as described in the AIDA engagement funnel below. The CREDS engagement funnel describes how promotion work is often the starting point as stakeholders are first informed about energy demand issues, so attain awareness; through communicating and engaging to spark interest; to deeper involvement and knowledge exchange to create desire and, finally, collaboration and co-production to achieve impact. As the funnel narrows, we may work with fewer people, but in more intensive ways.

CREDS research to impact funnel
Figure shows an inverted funnel with text reading: Awareness: Inform and promote using digital marketing, news articles, media relations, and marketing materials. Interest: Communicate and engage using digital content (blogs, news, briefings, publications, consultation responses), webinars, meetings with priority stakeholders, and events. Desire: Involvement and knowledge exchange through engagement with priority stakeholders, and workshops.Action: Collaborate and create impact through relationship management, co-production of policy, and co-design of research.

The impact journey

Promotion & engagement

Research > Promotion & engagement > Knowledge exchange > Impact

Promotion activities sit in the ‘awareness’ section of the engagement funnel. As broadcasting activities, these can be wide reaching in nature or focused on specific audiences:

  • Academic audiences – academic knowledge is promoted via journals and conferences.
  • Wider audiences – academic knowledge is adapted, with terminology and implications for a more general audience, speaking to people’s personal (individual) and professional (organisational) lives and including the context and bigger picture.
  • Specific audiences – academic knowledge is translated into key messages for specific stakeholders and audiences, e.g. a policy brief for DESNZ, which may be promoted wider via a social media campaign.

The guidance note, Promoting CREDS research, talks about the importance of promotion to raise awareness of research findings to encourage interest and engagement. It details the tools and support that are available in CREDS – ranging from social media campaigns, through to briefings, webinars and tailored emails.

As a result of promotion work, awareness of energy demand issues increases and stakeholders are more engaged (the ‘interest’ section of the engagement funnel). Deepening this engagement is critical to continue to move stakeholders into a closer relationship with us and the research and so, eventually, towards impact. That’s where knowledge exchange comes in.

Knowledge exchange

Research > Promotion & engagement > Knowledge exchange > Impact

Effective knowledge exchange sits in the ‘desire’ secton of the engagement funnel. At CREDS we have a broader definition of knowledge exchange as a spectrum: at one end, the simple, unidirectional act of passing on information; at the other, co-produced explicit and tacit knowledge emerging from relationships between engaged stakeholders (Downing et. al 2020).

We consider the ‘knowledge’ to include both explicit knowledge – existing in symbolic or written forms (i.e. reports, proposals) and tacit knowledge – more implicit (i.e. experience, know-how, know-whom, know-where). Meanwhile, ‘exchange’ includes many different methods, such as sharing, generation, co-production, co-management, and brokerage.

Knowledge exchange is an iterative process, a spiral of deepening engagement, resulting from and leading to trusting relationships that change the knowledge, researchers and stakeholders involved. From an Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) perspective, it is worth thinking through the implications of the power relations between researchers and various stakeholders, always working to broaden engagement.


Research > Promotion & engagement > Knowledge exchange > Impact

The deepest level of engagement (the ‘action’ section of the engagement funnel) sees researchers collaborating with stakeholders, co-designing research, co-producing outputs and working across disciplinary and sector boundaries in pursuit of impact. Impacts are the long term outcomes of an intervention, or series of interventions.

Over time, the aim is that the changes (outcomes) achieved through knowledge exchange and stakeholder engagement activities lead to measurable change – changes in policy, legislation, procedures or mindsets that have been adopted and implemented to achieve the ultimate goal e.g. reducing energy demand (‘impact’ in the research impact pathway).

The journey from research to impact can be complex and iterative. Keeping track of it and seeing how connections evolve is not a trivial task.  Evidence of impact can be elusive, partial and uncertain, and is usually a result of months or years of work by several interested parties, so keeping a record of the journey is important. The types of data to record range from minutes and notes from meetings, feedback and attendee information from events, website and social media statistics, quotes from third parties, media mentions, likes or citations, to less obvious but more profound ones such as shifting a disciplinary boundary or, being instrumental in initiating a new funding call.


This framing document, describing the journey from research to impact, provides an overview of how promotion, engagement and knowledge exchange actitivites collectively contribute to achieving research impact.

Banner photo credit: Elizabeth Lies on Unsplash