Impact in Action: Abigail Dymond

In the next few days Social Science Space will hear from five winners of Britain’s Economic and Social Science Research Council’s 2018 Impact Prize to learn how they built meaningfulness into their own research and how they measure impact more broadly. We continue today with Abigail Dymond of the University of Exeter, winner of the Outstanding Early Career Impact Prize. 

Could you briefly describe your research? When designing your research study, what did impact look like to you?

My research is concerned with the use of less lethal force by the police, including the use of so called ‘less lethal’ weapons such as Taser and pepper spray. This often receives less attention than police use of firearms but can have far-reaching consequences for members of the public, officers and police legitimacy, and is often not systematically reported.

Following on from my ESRC SWDTC funded PhD work on Taser, I was invited to join a police-led strategic review into the reporting of all types of force used in policing, to conduct a baseline survey of current reporting practices in different forces and produce recommendations for a future national reporting system.  Several of my recommendations were adopted by the review and in April 2017 a new national use of force reporting system was introduced.   Under this new system all 43 police forces in England and Wales now have a single, standardised form to report in detail every use of ‘less-lethal’ force, including Tasers, batons, irritant sprays and restraint.

In this specific context, impact to me meant having a concrete impact on policing policies and practices.  However this is, in some ways, an unusual example and I usually have a broader definition of impact that encompasses a range of other activities, including simply raising awareness of issues with those who have the ability to make decisions, and providing them with alternative findings and perspectives that they may not have previously considered.  

What advice would you offer to researchers seeking to generate impact through their own research?

Go to as many relevant networking events as possible to ensure that you have a wide circle of contacts.  It is difficult to predict how, and when, impact may happen, and often it is about knowing the right people, being in the right place in the right time, and a good dose of luck!

Approach key decision makers in your field at the very start of research, and don’t feel like you have to wait until you have done all of the analysis to make contact.  It is a good opportunity to build up relationships and hear their insights from the very start of your research, and means that they will be aware of you and your project should any related opportunities arise.

Often it can be very unclear whether your research has had any impact at all, how useful some of your impact related activities have been, and how to evidence any value that they may have had.  But don’t be discouraged, and remember to save the nice emails and words that people have said about your work for encouragement on a rainy day!

Should impact be the ultimate goal of research?

It should certainly be a goal of research, but I’m not about the ultimate one! It is certainly something that many of us in academia and elsewhere want for our research, and one of the key motivators for conducting our work.  However an emphasis on the importance of impact should also come with an understanding that it can be broadly defined, isn’t possible in all cases, is time consuming and often only happens over a long period of time!

Where next for your research?

I’m now looking forward to starting to analyse the first years’ worth of data that has been gathered under the new reporting system, alongside colleagues at the College of Policing and UCL.  I hope this will help generate improvements to the safety of officers and members of the public, and improve our understanding of how force is used, and its consequences.

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