Ruth Kirkham, Impact Manager, talks about embedding, defining and realising the real-world impact of research carried out at the Centre...
When did you start at the Centre and what was your role here?
When the e-Research Centre was first created in 2006 I was working on a JISC Virtual Research Environment project to determine how to best support the digital needs of the many and varied types of Humanities researcher. As the project gained follow-on funding to build prototypes and demonstrators it became one of the first Digital Humanities projects to be based at the Centre, and is now a core research area that has grown both in size and innovation ever since. Having worked as a Project Manager for many years, I am currently the Centre's Impact Manager, supporting our projects by embedding, defining and realising the real-world impact of the research that is carried out at the Centre.
What is your background?
I spent an enjoyable three years at Norwich School of Art and Design and have a degree in Fine Art where I majored in Print Making. When I left I became a mortgage advisor for a while, but then moved to Oxford to complete a PGDip in Publishing. My first publishing role was with Ingenta, where I worked for six years prior to joining the University in 2005. In the past eleven years I have managed a variety of Digital Humanities projects and coordinated large scale grants, (including the Digital Humanities Network and the e-Research South Consortium). I also worked as a Research Facilitator for several years before moving into my current role as Impact Manager.
Can you explain what Impact means?
Impact essentially means the real-world effect that research is having. HEFCE define it as "an effect on, change or benefit to the economy, society, culture, public policy or services, health, the environment or quality of life, beyond academia". But the notion of Impact is not just important as we look toward the next REF - in real terms Impact is the 'so what?' question that researchers really need to ask themselves when applying for funding. What is the benefit of this research? What will change? What is being advanced? Who is it helping?
How do you support researchers to embed and evaluate Impact?
The role was created with exactly this aim in mind, to establish the best ways to both embed, support and then evaluate the past and future Impact arising from the research at the Centre. Embedding Impact in research can be achieved in a number of ways, from working with a researcher at the point of making a funding application; encouraging researchers to partner with industry in addressing specific real-world problems; and providing easy access to the wealth of information and support that is available both within the University and more generally.
The other aspect of the role is to determine, define and evaluate the impact that the Centre's research has had over the past ten years and to draw out and maximise the emerging impact in our current research . This is a fascinating task which involves talking to researchers, writing case studies, delving into the history and provenance of projects and rediscovering and promoting much of the great work that has been carried out over the lifetime of the e-Research Centre.
Why should the Centre / Oxford University care about Impact?
Impact is the bread and butter of all research. It's not only the reason why we carry out research, but also the proof that the research is having real significance and as such the best argument for why it should receive further funding. At the Centre our impact is broad, we have projects that are helping to determine whether extreme weather events are caused by climate change, by providing the computing power to simulate extremely rare events; using innovative technology to enable blind and partially sighted visitors to use inexpensive touch tiles and audio to enhance their experience in a museum; and pushing forward faster drug discovery. This range of quantifiable impact not only illustrates the power of innovative computing, but also demonstrates the importance of research in continually improving quality of life across the world.
What qualities/skills do you think an Impact Manager needs to have?
I think that an Impact Manager needs to be able to talk to people at all levels and not be afraid to ask specific and sometimes difficult questions, such as 'Why is this important?', 'What and/or who is this helping?'.
At the e-Research Centre some knowledge of scientific computing is essential, as is the ability to be able to take information that can be quite niche and scientific and turn that into something that is much more understandable to a lay audience. The other key area is to be a good networker, to be able to work with and encourage cross-disciplinary collaborations with industry, policy makers and other researchers and research networks within Oxford or externally.
What are you most proud of having achieved in your role?
The role is relatively new, so much of the initial phase has been to establish an Impact Strategy for the Centre, to set up communication channels to allow us to disseminate our impact more widely and to further embed the notion of Impact within culture of the Centre. So far this has all been met with positivity and I've really enjoyed the opportunity to delve a bit deeper into our projects to find out what they've been doing and to help illustrate how their day-to-day work is having, or is set to have, a much broader effect on the world around us than perhaps they realise.
What do you think the Centre does best?
The interdisciplinarity of the Centre is wonderful. We have researchers working in the digital humanities and linked data, supercomputing experts, visualisation specialists and radio-astronomists to name just a few, all working within just a few hundred feet of each other and quite often working collaboratively together.
With such a melting pot of knowledge and interests it's always fascinating to find out what's coming up next and what tea-room discussion might spark another idea leading to a fresh perspective, new research and future meaningful impact!