KEI Guidance for Grant Applications

Embedding impact plans in grant applications has become increasingly important. Many research funders are interested in understanding how the projects they support will not only advance basic research but also how they will contribute to broader economic or societal challenges. As a result, funders may require applicants to explain how their research will affect – and hopefully benefit – non‑academic audiences and what plans the applicant will put in place to achieve that.

Writing grant applications differs from writing for academic publications in several respects. A key consideration is that your application is likely to be evaluated by reviewers from a range of academic disciplines (not necessarily just your own). In addition, those reviewers will likely be evaluating multiple applications. For that reason, you should make your impact plan stand out by keeping your writing as straightforward as possible (avoiding jargon and explaining highly discipline‑specific language or concepts); by clearly articulating your plans, hypotheses, and methods; and by making a strong case for why there is a need for the new research you are proposing to undertake.

1. Think about impact at the start of your project and plan for the exchange of knowledge throughout, rather than one‑way dissemination of information from expert to practitioner at the end of the research.

Why? Projects where the researcher has early and active engagement with stakeholders are much more likely to result in impact. This is both because the project is informed by stakeholder interests/ needs and because maintaining networks means there is an existing audience for the findings.

2) Understand the funder’s KEI requirements, as well as its overarching mission.

Why? In order to ensure that your application is responsive to the funder’s requirements, you should review any explicit guidelines concerning knowledge exchange, dissemination, public engagement and impact. In addition, it is in your interest to familiarise yourself with the funder’s mission and overarching objectives. Some funders might have a strong focus on pure research (and therefore less emphasis on KEI) while others might be strongly motivated by public engagement or knowledge exchange

3) Be as specific as possible about your KEI plans and use active, rather than passive, language.

Why? Reviewers will evaluate your application (and its impact plans) not only on the strength of the underlying ideas and research methodology, but also on the perceived likelihood of success. Being specific and direct in your writing will make for a more compelling and persuasive impact plan. It is best to write your impact documents using active language and to avoid the use of hedge words and phrases wherever possible e.g., instead of “we will attempt to…”, simply say “we will…”.

4) Be realistic in developing your impact plans.

Why? Some projects may have relatively modest impact goals. In many cases (such as exploratory research or fellowships where the focus might be on career development or developing networks) this is appropriate. In such cases, it is better to be realistic about what you can achieve rather than making claims that a reviewer or funder may find unrealistic or unfeasible. Although the impact activities may be more limited in these instances, it is still crucial to ensure that they are as specific and clearly articulated as possible.

5) Bear in mind that public engagement, dissemination, and knowledge exchange are not the same as impact.

Why? Engaging with the public (or other non‑academic audiences), disseminating research findings, and exchanging knowledge are all important parts of doing research and achieving research impact. However, they do not constitute impact in and of themselves. They are activities that can increase the likelihood that your research will have impact, but they should not be considered ‘end goals’ when writing applications for funders that require formal impact plans.

6) Discuss your project with the KEI Integrated Service, share your ideas with fellow academics in your discipline and in other disciplines, and engage with people outside academia, including potential stakeholders or end users of your research.

Why? Your colleagues are likely to identify new potential impacts or help you strengthen ideas you have already developed. Think of this as an opportunity for internal peer review before submitting your application for external peer review.

Download a KEI plan template.This template can be used to structure any project that aims to engage with non-academic audiences.

In order to complete the KEI plan, you will need to consider various aspects of your project:

What is the overall aim of your project? Is it to change discourse about a certain research area, or is it to effect policy, or impact upon behaviour change? This aim may differ and may need to be broken down if there are different expectations/results of the pre project upon different audiences.

Stakeholders and Beneficiaries
Which non-academic groups/individuals/organisations or sectors will be potential beneficiaries of the project? These can be existing, or entirely new contacts and their involvement may range from casual attendance at a workshop or longer-term partnerships working and deeper involvement in the co-design of the project.

Activities and Engagement
There are various ways to interact, engage or collaborate with non-academic audiences. Some activities or events will be more suited to specific audiences than others. Public engagement projects usually consists of festivals or exhibitions whereas more collaborative projects may undertake roundtable workshops, consultancy, secondments, or even co-design on reports or papers.

These will be the direct, measurable results of the engagement activities. The outputs will include things like the number of policy papers that were produced, events that were delivered, films that were produced or a website that was created, for example.

Outcomes and Impact
Outcomes are the immediate effects of the outputs that have been achieved. So if three workshops were delivered with participants, the outcomes would be things like the number of participants that are more knowledgeable as a result, or the encouragement of debate about the research topic, or even increased participation in future activities. The impact would be the longer term effect of the project.

In order to develop your plan, follow our guidance here.