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Our impact vision

What NIHR means by ‘research impact’

For NIHR, research impact is about making a meaningful difference to people’s lives through the research we fund and support.

We are committed to maximising the impact of our funding - one of five NIHR operating principles.

We have a responsibility to ensure we are making the best use of our funding so that it contributes to improving health and care for the whole population. We also have a duty to demonstrate progress in the difference we are making to wider society. 

To continue to drive forward and build on our commitment to meaningful change (i.e. ‘effect’ or ‘benefit’) and to hold ourselves accountable, we have set out a five-year impact vision of how we will better understand, learn and improve how NIHR activities collectively contribute to making a difference. 

This short animation brings our impact vision to life:

Strengthening our processes, systems and structures

We’re committed to continuous learning and improving what we do. Through our combined activities and efforts in adding value in research, research on research and evaluation, we ensure our funding practices and policies are based on and informed by the best available evidence.

We draw on international best practice and build shared learning experiences of what works and doesn’t work across our organisation to foster an impact culture. 

We use tools such as logic models to plot the mechanisms through which we anticipate key investments will bring about intended outcomes and impacts, and to guide our evaluation and learning activities. 

We’re developing tools to help the research community plan for impact. By supporting researchers to plan and resource the variety of activities that can lead to research having real-world effects, we hope to increase the likelihood of our research delivering societal benefits.

We train our staff so that they understand what impact means in the context of their role. Being equipped with the knowledge of how to understand and assess how impact occurs means our staff can continuously improve how NIHR supports meaningful and relevant activities, making the best use of public funds allocated to health and care research. 

Through our Impact Coffee Club, jointly run with the Association of Medical Research Charities (AMRC), we bring charities and organisatons together to share learning on impact-related topics.

Showing the difference we make

To maintain public investment and involvement in research, we have a duty to show the benefits of taxpayer-funded research to wider society – economically, socially and culturally.

However, evidencing our impact is challenging. Impact is highly context-dependent, iterative, and involves multiple actors and players from across different sectors, organisations and disciplines. Notwithstanding the unprecedented impact of COVID-19 on research, in most cases it takes considerable time for research funding to translate into meaningful real-world changes. As the largest funder of health and care research in the UK, we have a role in addressing this challenge and bringing societal needs and the research world closer together. 

Evaluation is one way of providing evidence of what is working, how and for whom, to ensure that NIHR holds itself to account in a way that is transparent, fair and responsive to different audiences’ needs.

We take a responsible, pragmatic and proportionate approach to evaluation that’s grounded in the principles of best practice. By using rigorous methods in the right context to answer policy-relevant questions that meet our research users' needs, and by sharing our learning with the wider research community, we hope to maximise the likelihood of the funding we deliver having an impact. 

We also share stories about how our research is influencing care, and making a positive difference to people, and the economy.