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Economic Impact in Peer Review

Applicants for STFC rolling and standard grants will now be required to produce a pathways to Impact document, identifying the potential economic impacts of their proposal.

The change follows a 2006 Research Councils UK project, and subsequent Excellence with Impact (PDF - link opens in a new window) report, into the efficiency and value for money of Research Council peer review processes. The report recommended the Research Councils improve guidance to applicants and peer reviewers to ensure a shared understanding about the value of identifying the potential economic impact of research, and that the new requirements be supported in electronic application systems and guidelines.

STFC’s grant application form has therefore been amended to:

  1. Include a publicly available box entitled ‘Impact Summary’.
  2. Re-name the ‘Beneficiaries’ box to ‘Academic Beneficiaries’
  3. Replace the existing ‘KE Plan’ and ‘Public Engagement Plan’ attachments with one attachment entitled ‘Pathways to Impact’.

Pathways to Impact documents will be assessed first by the Innovations Directorate and Science in Society teams, who will provide guidance for assessment by peer review panels.  The principal criteria for funding decisions will remain the scientific quality of the proposed research, and peer reviewers' primary concern will remain the scientific worth of a proposal.

For further information on these changes, please read the Frequently Asked Questions and Guidance on How to Complete the Pathways to Impact document.


Impact requirements - frequently asked questions

Demonstrating social and economic impact

  1. What do I have to do?
    Grant application forms, now enable applicants to demonstrate how they will achieve impact. There are three sections:
    • An 'Impact Summary' section where applicants will need to address the following two questions: who (outside the academic community e.g. public, schools, industry, government etc.) will benefit from this research and how they will benefit from this research;
    • An 'Academic Beneficiaries' section where applicants will need to address the following questions: how the research will benefit other researchers in the field, and identify whether there are any academic beneficiaries in other disciplines and, if so, how they will benefit and what will be done to ensure that they benefit;
    • A single attachment called the 'Pathways to Impact' document (2 sides). The document should address communications and engagement, collaboration, exploitation and application, capability and resources.
    The impact requirements only apply to consolidated grants. Fellowship proposals do not require impact information but will still require an outreach plan.

    Go to detailed guidance on How to complete the 'Pathways to Impact' document.
  2. Why do I have to demonstrate impact?
    The excellent research funded by the UK Research Councils has a huge impact on the wellbeing and economy of the UK. Working together with our wider communities and other partners, we want to ensure that these impacts are effectively demonstrated and supported throughout the research lifecycle and beyond. This will add value, stimulate interest from wider stakeholders - including the general public - and, where needed, actively highlight the need for continued investment in the research base.

    The onus rests with applicants to demonstrate how they will achieve this excellence with impact, bearing in mind that impacts can take many forms and be promoted in different ways. The changes clarify the position of the STFC with respect to impact, rather than introducing a new approach.

Applications stage

  1. What do you mean by impact?
    STFC like the other Research Councils, define impact as the demonstrable contribution that excellent research makes to society and the economy. Impact embraces all the extremely diverse ways in which research-related knowledge and skills benefit individuals, organisations and nations by:
    • fostering global economic performance, and specifically the economic competitiveness of the United Kingdom,
    • increasing the effectiveness of public services and policy, and
    • enhancing quality of life, health and creative output
    Impacts from research can take many forms, become manifest at different stages in the research life-cycle and beyond, and be promoted in many different ways. View some of our case studies.
  2. How does the 'Pathways to Impact' document differ from the knowledge exchange and outreach plans?
    STFC had previously asked applicants to think about and provide implementation plans for knowledge exchange and outreach. The 'Pathways to Impact' document clarifies the expectations of STFC in both these areas and allows all the research councils to take a harmonised approach to this issue.
  3. What guidance will be provided for applicants?
    Along with these FAQs, STFC specific guidance is available in the funding handbook and grants guidelines. In addition, personnel within the STFC's Science in Society Unit (SIS) and Innovations Directorate may be contacted for advice.
  4. I can't identify the impact - does that matter? A project might well deliver it later on, but we can't tell now what it will be?
    The 'Pathways to Impact' document is your opportunity to describe how the potential impacts of your research will be realised. Such a plan is intended to encourage thought on these matters and initiate the exploration of possible routes of engagement, rather than demanding firm proposals at this stage. You need to provide evidence that you have explored the potential for impact and how the potential impact could be realised. For example, you should have explored potential activities considered to be 'knowledge exchange' with your Technology Transfer Office or equivalent.
  5. What will happen if I don't submit a 'Pathways to Impact' document?
    You must complete the 'Impact Summary' and 'Pathways to Impact' in order to complete and submit your application. Je-S will not allow you to submit your proposal until these sections have been completed.

    It is expected that having reviewed the guidance and the list of types of impacts, applicants will be able to outline their Pathways to Impact. Please note, the maximum length is two pages but it is not expected that all applications will require this level of detail.

    If you feel that you have considered all of the above and that exploring activities aimed at enhancing impact is not applicable to your research, then you must use the Pathways to Impact attachment to explain your reasoning. Please reflect the same argument within your Impact Summary. This will be reviewed with the rest of the proposal.
  6. Over what time period do you expect my research to have an impact?
    The impacts of research may be realised at different times in the research life-cycle. You may like to consider short, medium and long term impacts in your Pathways to Impact document.
  7. My impacts may be achieved through teaching undergraduates and researchers and by telling other scientists about my work and making data available to them so that they can use it in their models - is this impact relevant?
    This form of knowledge exchange or outreach is considered to be a core activity of a university or institute and therefore is not considered to be impact in this context.
  8. My impacts may be achieved working with other scientific disciplines is this impact relevant?
    Yes, often the results need to be showed to have transferred into another discipline en-route to longer term impact.


  1. Who is going to be assessing the 'Pathways to Impact' document and summary?
    The 'Pathways to Impact' documents will be assessed first by the Innovations Directorate and SIS teams who will provide guidance for the assessment by the peer review panels. Peer review panels have already had experience in assessing the previously asked for knowledge exchange and outreach plans. Further guidance and training will be given to the panels to ensure they are able to judge the Pathways to Impact documents.
  2. What 'weighting' will the impact part of an application be given by a peer review panel?
    The principal criteria for funding decisions will remain the scientific quality of the proposed research. The introduction of the impact requirements will not change the existing criteria as outlined in the Research Grants Handbook.


  1. Will the impact information be used for any other purposes?
    STFC is interested in following up the impact of the research it funds and is required to report these impacts to stakeholders such as BIS. This information may be reported in the form of outputs or by developing more detailed case studies of impact. STFC is planning to develop further evaluation mechanisms to show evidence of the longer term benefits of the research it funds.
  2. How will the STFC support impact activities in or arising from the proposed project?
    The impact information will be used by the Innovations Directorate and SIS teams to identify ways in which STFC can provide further support. The STFC Innovations Directorate and SIS teams run a range of funding programmes that can be accessed to develop impact arising from the project.
  3. The impacts may change once the research is underway, how will you recognise that?
    Impact may become manifest at different stages of the research life cycle. Applicants are welcome to apply to the relevant impact funding schemes at the most appropriate point during their research. During the course of the research, HEI managers will visit the institutions to provide information on economic impact schemes funded by the STFC Innovations Directorate and other bodies and to provide an opportunity for face to face discussion with those interested in developing Pathways to Impact documents.
  4. My work has international impacts - should I mention these?
    Many impacts are international in nature; there is no specific requirement for impacts to be UK only. However, should you wish to apply for funding from the additional schemes run by the Innovations Directorate or Science in Society, any programme you propose will need to benefit UK citizens.

Public engagement

  1. How do I fill in my Public Engagement (PE) /Outreach plans in my pathways to Impact document?
    It is quite straightforward. You can do this in two ways:
    • You may wish to apply for funds from the Science in Society Programme- such as a small award. You will need to state what you intend to do and put this in your Pathways to Impact plan. You should say what your plans are and the audiences you will engage with, such as a series of school visits, talks, public lectures, taking part in a science festival, developing a teaching resource etc...
    • By stating that you require project specific resources for PE/Outreach in your case for support. You can mention this in your Pathways to Impact plan but resource details should be provided in the case for support. This applies only for PE/ outreach that is directly connected with your project and not for wider public engagement- such as general PE/ outreach work at University level.
  2. If my Public Engagement /Outreach plans are not project specific then what can I do?
    You can still apply for funding from our SIS programme schemes such as the small or large awards scheme to support your Public engagement/ outreach activities
  3. Can I apply for both project specific resources and to the Science in Society programme for separate funding?
    Yes you can as long as you make it clear in the application what your objectives are, however you cannot apply for resources to do the same PE/Outreach work that is funded elsewhere in your grant.
  4. If I find that there some excellent Public Engagement/Outreach opportunities once the grant has commenced, what can I do?
    You can apply for a small or large award from the SIS programme or if you have some savings identified- such as unused funds then you can use up to 1% of these (up to a maximum of £10k) to do PE/Outreach work
  5. Can I use savings identified in my grant for Public Engagement/Outreach work even though I have applied for and used project specific funding in the grant and had a small award from STFC SIS programme?
    Yes you can
  6. Can I get advice from you before I complete my application?
    Yes, please contact the SIS team for advice- we are here to help

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