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 Denise Baden of the University of Southampton, winner of the Outstanding Impact in Business and Enterprise prize.
Could you briefly describe your research? When designing your research study, what did impact look like to you?
From the start this was always more about impact than research, specifically how to use research findings on how to motivate behaviour from the psychology literature and practice theory from sociological literature to information on energy use, water savings and carbon footprints from environmental science and apply it in a specific intervention designed to promote more sustainable practices across an entire sector and the population. In the process this enabled us to explore the effectiveness of different approaches and motivators. We found that the combination of academic input and independent advice from the university working with established industry bodies and training organisations worked well to embed learning outcomes across the hairdressing sector.
What advice would you offer to researchers seeking to generate impact through their own research?
I think it is useful to consider your research in light of how it can contribute to overcoming the challenges we face, and the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals can be a good place to start. Firstly decide what research you will do – if it is not contributing to society in any way then why are you doing it? Then build in impact creation from the very start if you can. Maybe discuss your research questions with those who are affected by the research, to be sure you’re asking the right questions in the first place. Then consider how to ensure your research has value to those who can benefit from it. This often means finding ways to disseminate your research much more broadly than just through academic journals. For instance, we devised a virtual salon training tool and associated sustainability certification to disseminate our suggestions across hair salons (http://ecohairandbeauty.com/sustainablesaloncertificate/).
Another innovative example has been engaging songwriters to write songs about Fidel Castro and the Cuban revolution based on research on Cuba – this took off much more than anticipated to the point we put on a show in Covent Garden last year – see www.fidelthemusical.org. Similarly, building on results from my research which shows that positive role models and a solution-focus are more likely to inspire positive behaviour than negative examples, my latest project asks writers to create stories that present positive visions of what a sustainable society might look like (see www.greenstories.org.uk).
Should impact be the ultimate goal of research?
University research is mostly publicly funded and therefore we have a duty to ensure our research is relevant in the real world. There may be exceptions in ‘blue sky’ research where impacts are impossible to predict, but for myself and my research area in social science I believe definitely yes!
Where next for your research?
For the Ecohair project, I hope to internationalise the project by adapting our virtual salon and training tools for other countries. I’m also very excited about a new project I am working on which aims to disseminate information about sustainable policies, business models, practices and role models via the means of a series of writing competitions that solicits stories that showcase what a sustainable society might look like, based on innovative ideas, technologies and policies from our website www.greenstories.org.uk. We are publishing an anthology ‘Resurrection Trust’ in March 2019 including top stories submitted to the short story competition and we hope to have films, plays and novels emerging from future competitions.