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Eight ways to demonstrate impact in an Athena SWAN application

15 May 2019 | Dr Cheryl Smythe Following the receipt of a Silver Athena SWAN award under the expanded charter, Dr Cheryl Smythe, Babraham Institute’s EDI team lead, reflects on their approach to demonstrating impact within their application at the recent Research Institute Advisory Group workshop.

Over time, I have come to realise that a critical aspect for driving and understanding the need for action on equality is the ability (or least an attempt at the ability, because it’s no easy thing), to see life from someone else’s perspective. When developing our recent Athena SWAN application, I applied my skills from years of grant writing and made sure to always look at our application from an evaluator’s perspective.

So what insights did this approach give me? And, more importantly, can these help you to prepare your Athena SWAN application?

  1. Grab their attention. You can spend months carefully developing your application and, by the end, you’re going to be intimately familiar with every word (and precisely how many words there are!). But evaluators have limited time to make judgements – perhaps a few hours – and they will have several applications to review. So grab their attention. Start as you mean to go on, with a passionate, engaged and personal Director’s letter that highlights your key successes and impacts. An exciting opening will set the tone for the rest of the application and give the evaluator a much more positive outlook.
  2. Make main messages easy to find. Applications are long. Have you ever lost the message (or sometimes the will to go on) in the middle of Section 5? I have, several times. Add a summary of take-home impact messages at the end of each section or even sub-section. Take time and invest those precious words to collect and review. It will help you to focus and make an evaluator’s life easier too as they can follow your themes and see what matters to you from section to section.
  3. Be explicit. This is no time to be modest. It can be difficult, especially since as academics we’re taught to keep things passive and neutral. Use sentences like “The impact of this action has been…”, “This action has impacted on…”, “This action delivered…”. Show what you did and celebrate what you achieved.
  4. Use different types of evidence. Your quantitative data will provide much of your evidence of impact. But don’t stop there. Use quotes and photos – and lots of them as they make for a much more engaging read. The old adage about pictures and words is true, and it helps with your word count!
  5. Develop a circular narrative. Using a narrative that comes from a research perspective, where data informs any action that then leads to the next round of data, will put actions into context and highlight impact. Develop a narrative that cycles through analysis of data, conclusions drawn from the analysis, actions implemented as a result of those conclusions and then their impacts on the next cycle of data and analysis. Make sure there’s a clear link between your conclusions and outputs and the goals you set.
  6. Ask for the impact. As part of the European Union’s Horizon 2020 project LIBRA, we developed a thought-provoking poster campaign to highlight some of the issues around gender equality. These posters were placed in research organisations around Europe in a variety of locations, including on the back of toilet doors (making use of a captive audience!). I only know that these posters had an impact because I asked and gathered evidence through photos. Now I have an excellent collection of photos of European toilet doors for use in future applications and have metrics from their dissemination through social media channels!   
  7. Make impact part of the process. Consider how you will show the impact of your actions as a part of the process of developing those actions, don’t make it an afterthought. For example, make sure you have baseline data before you implement an intervention. Keep a note of impacts and gather evidence of impact as you go along – not just when you are writing your application. And keep it all organised and structured so you can pull it all together when the time comes. We’re already building an image library of evidence for our next application.
  8. End on an (impact) high. Leave the evaluator with a clear message about impact at the end of the application. I call it a “ta-dah” sentence and usually accompany it with *jazz hands* when explaining this to others. Briefly explain why the actions and impacts are worthy of recognition by an Athena SWAN award.

I cannot talk about demonstrating impact without acknowledging the exceptional management which led to the achievement of that impact. Our latest application wouldn’t have been what it was without the tireless efforts of Dr Laura Norton (now at the RSC) and our equality4success team at Babraham.

I’m pleased to say that this approach to demonstrating impact did itself have an impact – we were commended on it in our recent Athena SWAN application. We learnt a lot of lessons in the process and I really hope that these tips will help more organisations to achieve more through Athena SWAN. Equality is for everyone and we need to work together and learn from each other to achieve more sooner. I wish you all well with your actions in creating a more equitable workplace …and in demonstrating the impacts of your efforts! 

Cheryl is the team lead for EDI and the International Grants Manager at the Babraham Institute. She has drawn on her personal experience of the leaky science career pipeline and her experience of crafting multi-centre international grant applications to highlight the impact of the Institute’s work in creating a more equitable working environment.    

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