Knowledge utilisation in general
What is knowledge utilisation?
NWO understand knowledge utilisation to mean the iterative process of knowledge development towards societal impact. NWO encourages researchers to formulate relevant research questions, develop knowledge and apply it in collaboration with potential users of knowledge, such as social organisations or companies. The goal is to create social value (in the long term). Involving potential users of knowledge at an early stage of the research process increases the likelihood of societal impact.
What is societal impact?
NWO understands the societal impact of research to signify changes in society that are (partly) the result of knowledge and expertise generated by research. Academic quality is a condition for societal impact. Societal impact does not arise solely through knowledge and insights generated by research, however.
Why is societal impact important to NWO?
Society is facing increasingly complex challenges that require solutions. New knowledge and insights from scientific research can make an important contribution towards solving societal issues today and in the future. As a science funding body, NWO can play an important role in this. That is why knowledge utilisation is part of NWO’s strategy.
What is the aim of the knowledge utilisation policy?
NWO wants to use its knowledge utilisation policy to increase the likelihood that scientific research will help to solve societal challenges. The policy supports and encourages researchers to work together (in ‘productive interactions’) with potential users of knowledge in society.
Would you like to know exactly what NWO means by productive interactions, knowledge utilisation and societal impact? Take a look at the definitions of knowledge utilisation
Why does NWO use three knowledge utilisation approaches?
Not all funding instruments focus to the same extent on societal impact. NWO considers it important that the use and approach to knowledge utilisation matches the aim of the research. To this end, NWO uses three approaches: the Impact Outlook, Impact Plan and Impact Focus approach. Watch this animation for a short introduction to these three approaches.
To what extent does NWO align itself with knowledge utilisation policies outside the Netherlands?
It is common for researchers around the world to promote societal impact in addition to the scientific impact of their funded research. That has been one of the drivers of UKRI’s policy in the UK for years, for example. NWO's Impact Plan is inspired by UKRI's knowledge utilisation policy. At this point, research consortia in the UK are so familiar with drawing up a Theory of Change and impact pathways that these are no longer explicitly requested. In the Netherlands, thinking in terms of a Theory of Change and impact pathways is still relatively new.
Knowledge utilisation in funding instruments
How does NWO determine which approach to use for my research?
Which knowledge utilisation approach (Impact Outlook, Impact Plan or Impact Focus) to use for research is determined by the primary aim (scientific or societal) of the NWO funding instrument in question. For each funding instrument, NWO determines the knowledge utilisation approach in advance. Sometimes the choice is left to the applicant. This is the case, for example, with the Dutch Research Agenda – Research along routes by Consortia (NWA-ORC), where the applicant can choose between the Impact Outlook and Impact Plan approach.
What is the difference between the three approaches to knowledge utilisation?
The Impact Outlook approach is for research that focuses primarily on scientific impact. However, NWO does encourage researchers to think about opportunities for societal impact as well. NWO helps applicants to discover and develop these opportunities. This approach gives them the freedom to interpret these opportunities as they see fit.
The Impact Plan approach is for research that aims to help address societal issues. NWO asks researchers to develop an integrated approach with partners. This approach provides a targeted method to increase the likelihood of societal impact. It requires close cooperation (productive interactions) between researchers and users in all stages of the research.
The Impact Focus approach focuses on taking at least one targeted step towards applying research findings in society. This approach is still evolving and currently has limited application.
How important is knowledge utilisation in the final evaluation of my application?
The weighting of knowledge utilisation in the assessment of the application depends on the goal of the funding instrument and the related approach to knowledge utilisation. Each call issued by NWO describes the assessment system that indicates the extent to which an application will be evaluated on knowledge utilisation.
In-depth questions on policy
My research is curiosity-driven. Does knowledge utilisation still apply to my research?
Yes. Insights from curiosity-driven research can be relevant to society (whether or not anticipated). With the Impact Outlook approach, NWO asks applicants to think about the potential societal impact of the research. During the research, the researcher also regularly reflects on how the research could have a societal impact. It happens quite regularly that the research, which initially focused on a purely scientific question, generates findings that become the starting point for a solution to a societal challenge.
It can take years to achieve a societal impact. As a researcher, how can I influence that process?
Indeed, it can take years to achieve impact, and in many cases the influence of one research project on this impact is limited. There is no guarantee of impact in research, nor does NWO expect this. However, NWO does want to encourage researchers to:
- be aware of the possible direct or indirect societal relevance of their scientific research,
- and where meaningful, enter into interactions with possible users of their knowledge.
The knowledge utilisation approaches help in that respect.