The turn toward social impact is a testament to the urgent need for research-informed responses to global challenges. Transdisciplinary teams working on multi-sectoral projects are crucial to drive responsible research and substantive change. This project is not for the researcher interested in working as they have always done by just gathering more evidence and telling a better narrative. This website is for the person motivated to explore what shifts in research practice are necessary to meet the challenge of impact.

Early in our research it was evident that designing for social impact is context-specific, so pathways to impact need to be bespoke. We observed the limiting world that an instrumental focus on evidencing impact could lead to, and the agential world that a purpose-led focus could inspire. We learned that there can be no formulaic answers but we can ask better questions.

Our research began with a project, funded by the Faculty of Business and Economics at Monash University, to develop a transformative learning program that would support academic researchers invested in amplifying the potential impact of their research. To do so, we convened participatory workshops and follow-up  interviews with academic staff at Monash, co-designed with the University’s professional and academic staff, plus secondary research into the literature on research and design impact. The subsequent Impact by Design: a field guide for academic researchers curious about impact, explored the new models, reflexive questions and creative ways to reframe academic research practice.

Our focus on a shift in practice purposefully resists the reduction of research impact in the academy to how it is evidenced and incentivised. We live in a world where academic performance is oftentimes made sense of through quantifying performance, and in that world people will focus on metrics. But we also live in a world where researchers are driven to engage with complex global challenges, and in that world people are intrinsically motivated by a sense of purpose.

These are opposing worlds that ask different questions of impact. In the KPI world, people ask what counts as impact. In the mission-driven world, people question what they can do to amplify impact. One focuses on how to account for change, the other on how to be accountable for change. This guide is for those researchers who want to be accountable. Researchers who want to undertake research that increases the chance of our labour leading to positive social, environmental, cultural, economic, technological, and geo-political change.

The Team

This is a transdisciplinary project with collaborations that ebb and flow. The research was stronger because we recognised our research practices — as ethnographers, designers, methodologists, educators and policy-makers — deeply informed our approaches and how we positioned ourselves. As a co-design researcher, Professor Lisa Grocott brings to the collaboration an understanding of research engagement and translation. Lisa’s contribution is further shaped by her research into transformative shiftwork and her Indigenous perspective informed by being Māori (Ngati Kahugnunu). Associate Professor Shanti Sumartojo’s expertise in human geography and design ethnography illuminates the context of research impact as place-based and grounded in lived experience.

Wade Kelly, Monash’s Director of Research Excellence and Impact, contributed his vast knowledge of impact, to the cultural project of developing impact literacy across the academic sector. For the initial Impact by Design project, Professor Michael Mintrom’s expertise in public policy helped connect research impact to the work of brokering strategic partnerships and effective policy development. For the website project our long-standing creative collaborator Professor Stacy Holman Jones brings her practice expertise to the research of transforming lives, relationships, ways of living, and communities. Stuart Geddes brought a creative orientation to the design of the workshop materials and the field guide, while Kate Barlock designed this shifting website. We are also grateful to Myf Doughty and Alexandra Haendel for the support they brought to the workshops.


The interdisciplinary research team recognise that their disciplinary expertise and practice knowing were further informed by the experiences and opinions shared by the business and economic researchers who participated in the Pathways to Impact and Impact by Design workshops and the follow up interviews. Similarly, the university research managers, leaders and academic staff who have participated in subsequent workshops continue to inform the evolution of this work. We are grateful for their time, insights and new perspectives.

We acknowledge the Bunurong people of the Kulin Nations on whose land we gathered, debated, designed and imagined alternate research practices futures. We recognise that to pay respect to First Nations Elders past and present, we are called to learn how Indigenous ways of knowing, doing and being can inform how we make sense of research impact. Specifically, this compels us to consider sites of research as always in relation to Country, as situated within complex knowledge systems and connected in time and place, to future and past generations.

We are grateful for the initial research contract that seeded this line of inquiry. We acknowledge the funding from the Faculty of Business and Economics at Monash University, commissioned by the Distinguished Professor of Organisational Behaviour and Development, Charmine Hartel.

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