IOE - Faculty of Education and Society


IOE Impact Meet-Up: Enabling Outstanding Impact

This session aimed to provide a better understanding of the role of major funders as enablers of outstanding impact and celebrate the achievements of the Millennium Cohort Study (MCS).


  • How the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) enables, recognises, and rewards the work of researchers who are delivering benefits for society and improving people's lives. 
  • The key elements that make an award-winning impact prize application, examined through the lens of a case study based on research led by Professor Fitzsimons, who has contributed evidence on major health issues facing young people in the UK, leading to multiple impacts.
  • Top tips on demonstrating the impact of research in prize applications, drawing on experience from a Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2021 assessor and member of the ESRC Grants Assessment Panel.

What we learned

How ESRC supports impact

Key elements of an award-winning impact project – the MCS case study

  • Emla Fitzsimons is a Professor of Economics at the Centre for Longitudinal Studies at IOE and recipient of the ESRC Celebrating Impact Prize in 2020 alongside Professor Praveetha Patalay, for research that drew policymakers’ attention to the distinction between mental ill-health and mental wellbeing in young people.
  • The evidence showed the scale of mental illness among adolescents across the UK, leading to tangible policy impacts such as the increase of children’s mental health services capacity and changes to Public Health England (PHE) strategies for tackling children’s and young people’s mental health.
  • She shared that the ESRC prize application included a form and a panel interview. Media training, promotional opportunities and participation in a high-profile ceremony followed.
  • Professor Fitzsimons stressed the importance of four contributing factors to their success in research impact: content, context, collaboration, and communication.

Content related to the purposeful development of research to fill major gaps in the evidence base. Theirs was the first evidence to emerge in UK in over a decade on the topic, and the embedding of information within a longitudinal study made it even more powerful for understanding drivers of mental health, including from early in life. 

Context considerations revolved around carefully selecting the time to release findings, in this case just ahead of the publication of the Government Green Paper on Children and Young People’s Mental Health Provision.

Collaboration across disciplines and with third sector also enhanced the impact of the research, through the development of a briefing with the National Children’s Bureau.
Communication also played a part in their impact plan, with the team investing time in media outreach, engagement with policymakers and third sector, using infographics to communicate the main findings of complex statistical analysis researchers had conducted.

  • Professor Fitzsimons is now pursuing new research which establishes clear evidence on causal impacts of breastfeeding on children’s cognitive development and underlines the importance of round the clock post-natal support for mothers.

Top tips to demonstrate the impact of research in ESRC Celebrating Impact Prize applications

  • Professor Huw Morris, IOE Honorary Professor of Tertiary Education, advised researchers to provide a demonstrable link between ESRC support, the research undertaken, and the impact achieved. And, in addition:
  • Colleagues should map out the theory of change/logic model and complete an influence and impact matrix (see both links under Impact tools on the Resources section of this document) to identify who to speak to and how to engage with them most effectively. 
  • Evidence the reach and significance of impact from the beneficiaries’ point of view
  • Reach is the extent and/or diversity of the beneficiaries of the impact, as relevant to the nature of the impact. It is assessed in terms of the extent to which the potential constituencies, number or groups of beneficiaries have been reached. 
  • Significance is the degree to which the impact has enabled, enriched, influenced, informed, or changed the performance, policies, practices, products, services, understanding, awareness, or wellbeing of the beneficiaries.
  • Demonstrate how the researcher(s) played an active and leading role in making the impact happen
  • Touch on the potential for other researchers to learn and to be inspired. 
  • Consider how research teams responded to challenges including failures, opportunities, and changes of plan.


Useful tools

Impact tools

Reference texts