Journal article

The societal impact puzzle: a snapshot of a changing landscape across education and research

Engagement and Impact Assessment (EI) Social impact Policy analysis Policy implementation Research impact Public sector Australia

The term ‘impact’ is everywhere. Organisations and individuals want to fund projects for impact, measure impact, and showcase the impact of effort, expertise and financial investment, but clear definitions and understandings of what having an impact really means for people and institutions appear lacking or ad-hoc. This paper explores ‘impact’ in the areas of education and research into government practice. For governments, the impact agenda involves operating in increasingly tight fiscal environments with mounting pressure to articulate and demonstrate return on investment. For education providers, there are increasing calls to justify and prove why investment in education is an efficient and effective endeavour. For universities, this includes a shift from a traditional publication-focused research impact culture to a wider societal impact one that demonstrates direct and indirect benefits to society. This paper conceptualises impact as a “puzzle” with many pieces, with education and research making up key pieces that can and need to fit together better. In doing so, the paper identifies four problem areas to help guide thinking toward clarity about what ‘impact’ entails. To aid collective progress in this space, we detail key issues facing the education and research sectors. Based on our analysis we arrive at a set of questions intended to help guide thinking and actions toward collectively increasing the ability to generate and demonstrate the impact of both into government practice and society at large.

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