Dissemination and ‘impact’
Dissemination literally means sowing seeds, and goes beyond publication of your research. Research may aim to sow the seeds of changes in policies, services, or beliefs about whoever has been studied. Does that apply to your research? Do you think it could inform wider changes? Do you want it to?
Dissemination raises important ethics questions. Not least, if research is disseminated, it has to involve people, and it may challenge or upset them. But while dissemination raises complex issues, it has also been argued that people have an ethical duty to try to make their research findings widely known and, if possible, acted upon. This consideration is particularly important for social science researchers, because of the nature of our work.
The ESRC (and other funders) have increasingly prioritised impact in making their funding decisions. You will be expected to address the issue of impact, and dissemination plans, in proposals to most (if not all) social science funders.
Research Councils UK defines impact as the demonstrable contribution that excellent research makes to society and the economy. But what does this mean?
ESRC define impact very broadly, stating that it embraces all the diverse ways in which research-related skills benefit individuals, organisations and nations. The ESRC website gives examples such as: fostering global economic performance; increasing the effectiveness of public services and policy; and enhancing quality of life, health and creative output. Impacts from research can take many forms and can occur at different stages in the research life-cycle and beyond. Impact can be promoted in many different ways.
Links between research evidence, the research report, and what the research findings might mean for policy and practice are sometimes unclear. If you are planning to disseminate your research, think and consult about how the research could be used.