University of Calgary and the city skyline
Eric Gonzalez.

May 26, 2021

Knowledge Engagement team develops toolkit for researchers to measure impact

Initiative demonstrates UCalgary’s commitment to research impact assessment

Traditionally, research impact has been dominated by an “if you can’t count it, it doesn’t count” approach — focusing heavily on funding dollars into a project and journal-based metrics.

What if we could also measure impact outside the gates of the ivory tower and in the broader community? Can researchers measure something commonly perceived as an intangible?

The Knowledge Engagement (KE) team believes so and recently developed the KE Impact Assessment Toolkit to do just that, through funding support from the Government of Canada’s Future Skills Centre. The toolkit unites data and storytelling to assist researchers in evaluating and reporting on the impacts of their knowledge engagement work. The toolkit is now available for download and researchers are invited to attend an orientation session on May 27 to learn more.

To identify an appropriate framework, the KE team consulted with a steering group and studied more than 45 different methodologies used by institutions around the world. The REAP Self-Assessment Model, originally developed by the University of Bradford, was ultimately selected. The model is based on reciprocity, externalities, access and partnership. Using these principles as a guide, the toolkit balances qualitative and quantitative considerations, captures a variety of impact-related priorities and is open to diverse ways of knowing and doing. 

Stepping stone in UCalgary’s research impact evolution

The toolkit is just one of the university’s recent strides to increase institutional emphasis on research impact.

“We define ‘impact’ as making a difference in the communities we serve. By supporting engaged scholarship from inception to impact, we can make research meaningful to society and to community,” says Dr. William Ghali, vice-president (research).

This approach includes the university’s commitment to several national and international initiatives. In July of 2020, UCalgary joined the table at Research Impact Canada (RIC), a network of 20 participating institutions that focus on maximizing the impact of research. In January 2021, the university signed the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA), signaling a dedication to shift our assessment focus away from purely academic indicators, such as citations and journal publications. The Office of Sustainability recently documented institutional progress on impact through the lens of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Understanding the impact of research is essential to create inclusive societies that are accessible for everyone. Planning for impact in research design – from project development to knowledge translation – is critical, and the toolkit has the capacity to help with that,” says Dr. Kathleen Sitter, PhD, Canada Research Chair in Multi-Sensory Storytelling in Research and Knowledge Translation and associate professor, Faculty of Social Work.

Next steps and addressing learning curve

“We are very aware that the work is really only just beginning,” says MacKinley Darlington, manager, knowledge engagement. “This is a first step in a larger process to have knowledge engagement more integrated into the research culture at the University of Calgary.”

The KE team is providing dedicated wraparound supports with accompanying digital training products and virtual Q-and-A sessions to assist researchers with using and adapting the toolkit to meet their unique knowledge engagement and impact assessment needs.

To learn more about this project and download the toolkit, visit the toolkit website. The KE team is also hosting a toolkit orientation session on May 27 as part of their Navigating Partnered Research Series. 

This project is supported by Research Impact Canada and funded by The Conference Board of Canada through the Government of Canada’s Future Skills Centre.