Impact Outlook Approach

The Impact Outlook Approach has been developed for research that primarily focuses on scientific impact, which is not necessarily linked to a societal issue. With this approach, NWO facilitates the discovery of (unforeseen) opportunities for societal impact and stimulates opportunities to monitor these.

Examples of financing instruments that apply this approach are the Open Competitions ENW and SGW and talent research.

The approach explicitly offers room for fundamental scientific research. The approach is a strategy that focuses on discovering and monitoring (unforeseen) opportunities for knowledge utilization and societal impact during all phases of the research. These opportunities may have been foreseen at the start of the research, but may also arise during the research.

The Impact Outlook Approach in the research process

Scientific research can be seen as a cycle that starts with a research question, resulting in research activities from which scientific insights emerge. This output can result in scientific impact, inspiring and influencing other scientists and shifting the state-of-the-art. New research questions can arise in this cycle, so that it starts all over again. In the Impact Outlook Approach this is called the 'Cycle of curiosity-driven research' (see figure 1). Various moments have been built into the cycle of curiosity-driven research, focusing on opportunities for knowledge utilisation and ultimately societal impact.

Figure 1: Cycle of curiosity-driven research

Applications will be assessed on the possible scientific and / or societal impact of the research. The applicant has the choice to focus on one or both forms of impact. Even if an applicant does not opt for a focus on societal impact, it is requested to indicate how attention will be paid during the research to discover opportunities that have arisen and to take these a step further.

The output phase is all about knowledge sharing. Researchers are encouraged to use accessible stories to make their knowledge and skills resulting from the research accessible to third parties. NWO is one of the possible stages for these stories, for example on the website, by writing a news item or during meetings. NWO also focuses on identifying opportunities through, for example, scouting (together with Knowledge Transfer Offices).

NWO encourages projects with a lot of potential for societal impact to apply for follow-up funding, so that the researcher can further develop these opportunities. For example, within an instrument under one of the other two impact approaches (Impact Plan Approach and Impact Focus Approach), so that more concrete steps towards societal impact can be taken. It is also possible that others develop the insights further towards application.

Possible activities during the financing process

From the Impact Outlook Approach, a blueprint has been drawn up for financing instruments within the approach. This blueprint includes the following activities:

  • In the application phase: The current knowledge utilisation paragraph is replaced: in financing instruments where the Impact Outlook Approach applies, an application is preferably assessed on the criterion of scientific and / or societal impact. Deviations from this may depend on the possibilities of the various financing lines.
  • After funding: NWO plays a stimulating and facilitating role to support researchers in recognising and exploring (unforeseen) opportunities for knowledge utilisation and societal impact during the course of the research, for example by: 
    • scouting (actively asking about emerging opportunities); 
    • focus on opportunities in reports; 
    • provide insight into possibilities for follow-up financing; 
    • provide a platform to communicate research results.