High impact research and the need for narrative

It’s not enough for researchers to do robust work and hope that others will work out how it can be applied – they should also develop a narrative on what change their research can make and how.


This was one of the key takeaways from a series of webinars organised by The Australia- Indonesia Centre (AIC) as part of a program to help researchers learn how to give impact to their work.

The next generation of researchers is facing a challenge as governments, communities and funding providers seek solutions, and universities urge researchers to have an impact beyond their scholarly role. The challenge is how to have an academic and social impression at the same time, and the new training program called the Talent Accelerator Program (or TAP) guides researchers on this question.

Until recently, researchers focused on developing knowledge and publishing articles in high impact journals, which has meant being often cited by other researchers. But in this new environment what does research impact mean and what is the role of the academic in delivering that impact?

The TAP was developed with OpenLearning as part of the Partnership for Australia-Indonesia Research (PAIR) to foster a network of early career researchers across Indonesia and Australia and to apply basic strategies in demand-driven and interdisciplinary, team-based research. It delivers on that aim by helping researchers develop their collaborative research skills and deliver demand-driven impact.

Most university research training is discipline-specific in order to develop deep content and methodological expertise. The TAP aims to add breadth to these skills and enables researchers to effectively work in interdisciplinary teams, address complex problems, and derive impactful solutions for people in Indonesia and Australia.

Across three webinars entitled ‘Researchers working towards impact’, the AIC hosted panellists from NGOs, government, and academic and philanthropic organisations  to share experiences with a talented pool of early career researchers who work as associate fellows on the PAIR program as well as researchers from eleven universities across Indonesia and Australia.

Below are some key webinar takeaways on developing an impact narrative.

Choosing the mark you want to leave

From the first webinar, it became clear that ‘impact’ means different things to different people and organisations. For example, Petrarca Karetji, head of the UN Pulselab in Jakarta, explained how they pursue impact in three areas building on big data: 1) Methodological Impact – Improving the practice of data science and human-centred design; 2) Ecosystemic Impact – Strengthening the data innovation ecosystem; and 3) Operational Impact – Putting analytics and prototypes to use with partner organisations.

Other organisations, however, are more directly trying to influence policy, according to Prof. Michael Mintrom who is an expert in public policy at Monash University. Since different organisations have different objectives and there are many forms of impact, early career researchers need to consider carefully where and how they can make an impact beyond academic publications, often in collaboration with these organisations.

It takes a village to create impact

Across the board, panelists acknowledged that achieving social impact is a complex and often long process. Social change or large scale impact is seldom achieved alone. Researchers do not have to solve the world’s problems single-handedly but need to know where they stand in the knowledge supply chain.

Jana Hertz, team lead at the Knowledge Sector Initiative, mapped the network of organisations across Australia and Indonesia that are involved in turning evidence into policy and social change. Joining cross-country research initiatives and centres are a great place to start. Researchers should therefore become aware of the players in their field, what their aims are, and how they can connect and work with these organisations.

Connect on an emotional level

Research topics are often very specific and can relate to small aspects of bigger issues. In those cases, it is important to have a narrative that can connect that research to the bigger picture, said Prof. Karin Leder, who is a director of the Revitalising Informal Settlements and their Environments (RISE) Program.

This is helpful in getting others on board and obtaining funding. Furthermore, an impact narrative can be helpful to create connections with people outside of academia who are working on the same topic according to Bonaria Siahaan, the CEO of CARE Indonesia. She said that numbers and reports only tell part of a story but that they are not enough to connect with people on an emotional level to gain access and commitment:

“Numbers are not enough. You need to tell the story behind those numbers. What does it mean if you say 100 women are able to access water? What does that mean for those women? It means they don’t have to go to the river and walk two kilometres each way every day to get that water.”


From COVID-19 to climate change, the world has many challenges. To address these challenges, researchers will need to work effectively with a range of stakeholders and in collaboration with academics from different disciplines. Having a clear narrative on what impact you aim to achieve, and how, helps in the communication and collaboration with others and the likelihood of having an impact beyond the academe. This series of webinars was just the start of the Talent Accelerator Program. We are looking forward to many more sessions that can support early career researchers in working on these challenges.

About PAIR

PAIR is the flagship program for the AIC’s new research model, supported by the Australian Government, the Indonesian Government, the South Sulawesi Provincial Government and the AIC’s eleven university partners.

Focused on South Sulawesi, PAIR explores the western coastal region of the province where a new 145-kilometre railway line is being built, connecting two major cities and three regencies: Makassar, Maros, Pangkajene, Barru and Parepare. It will explore four key areas: seaweed as a major commodity; transport, logistics and supply chain; young people health and wellbeing; and young people skills and development.

About The Australia-Indonesia Centre

Through its In Conversation webinars, the Australia-Indonesia Centre has dissected the impacts of COVID-19 from perspectives including public health, economics, governance, international trade and international education. PAIR research will add to these efforts as we continue to seek ways to work together towards recovery and continued development.

The AIC is a consortium of 11 leading research universities in both countries. Its mission is to advance people-to-people links in science, technology, education, innovation and culture.

Picture of Dr Martijn van der Kamp

Industry Fellow
The Australia-Indonesia Centre

Picture of Aimee Harman

Group Executive Assistant
The Australia-Indonesia Centre