By Emily Burns, Head of Research Communications, Diabetes UK

Published: 30 May 2018

As medical research charities, we have a responsibility to evidence the impact of our funding. Are we putting our supporters’ donations to best use? And can we learn from what’s gone before us?

Diabetes UK has been funding research for over 80 years, but we recently decided to put impact at the top of our agenda. Here’s what happened next.

Lessons learned…

We launched the first edition of our Research Impact Report in March. If you’re thinking of doing the same, here are our (first) lessons learned:

  1. Work out who you’re talking to. Sounds obvious, but do you want to share impact with your supporter base, the research community, corporate partners, other charities or your Board of Trustees [insert many other options here]. It’s incredibly hard to tick everyone’s boxes with one thing.
  2. Get a balance of qualitative and quantitative. Everyone loves a number, and it’s easy to get lost in them. But is that what your audience is after? They likely want the case studies and examples of impact that bring the numbers to life – try to get the balance right.
  3. It’ll never be comprehensive. Diabetes UK has been funding research for over 80 years, but we haven’t had the luxury of a comprehensive grant management system until relatively recently. This makes measuring and reporting on impact pretty complex. Archive delves, spreadsheets, piles of PDFs and researchers on the end of the line, only too happy to re-tell their impact stories for the fifth time. And that’s OK. (As long as you keep comprehensive records from now on!)
  4. Mix up your benefactors and beneficiaries. It’s easy to tell a scientist’s story, and then a patient’s. If we were to do this again, we’d probably try to bring them closer together – that feels like we’d be bringing the values of research impact to life.

Catching the impact bug

We’ve emailed, posted, tweeted and toasted to the new report. It’s a moment to celebrate, a line in the sand on which to build upon. So here’s what we’re focusing our impact efforts on next:

  1. Repurpose, repurpose, repurpose. We’ve got a shiny PDF and an even shinier hard copy, but we know that many of our supporters like to be reached in different ways. We’re taking messages and turning them into workable products for social media, fundraising, press and volunteering.
  2. Delving a little deeper. Impact reports tend to be relatively top line, especially if they’re aimed at your supporter base. We want to spend some time delving into specific areas of research, to build a clearer picture of the difference our research funding has made.
  3. We’ve recently joined forces with Web of Science to track our publication data. This is helping us understand who our most published authors are, where our researchers collaborate and where else they get funding from.
  4. Staying in touch. We’re bringing in long-term follow-up reports, so we can go back out to our past grant-holders and see what impact their research has had since. We’re hoping to build a library of impact examples that we can draw upon down the line.

Choosing from the line-up

The idea of ‘money well spent’ isn’t new, but the tools now at our disposal to evidence that fact are. Do we choose to use them?

There are now a startling array of tools to help medical research charities measure their outputs and impact (at a price). From publications and citations to alternative metrics, from worldwide grant funding to intellectual property. It’s worth working out what’s most important to your charity before investing time and money. 

We recognise we’re very much at the start of our ‘impact journey’ – hands up, we haven’t cracked it just yet. So if there are medical research charities out there who would like to have a chat, and take this journey together, then reach out.

Or we can catch up at the next AMRC Impact Coffee Club!