Impact partnerships bring research ‘full circle,’ panelists say

Research News

Dan Moser, June 2, 2023

Impact partnerships bring research ‘full circle,’ panelists say

Cultivating a culture of impact partnership in research should be integrated throughout the research journey, says the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s self-described “traffic cop” for the process. It should be a source of joy and excitement in research, she said.

Jocelyn Bosley, the Office of Research and Economic Development’s research impact coordinator, led a Partnering for Impact workshop for faculty May 2. 

“At UNL, impact is understood as an essential part of research. It’s not an afterthought. It’s integrated throughout the research process,” Bosley said. “Hopefully, it’s not just that your research drives your impact work, but the engagement work that you do with audiences outside the research community also informs your research, so closes the loop.” 

The temptation is to approach impact partnerships as a box that must be checked to satisfy external funders’ requirements, Bosley said.  

“There should be a lot of joy and excitement and happiness that comes out of doing research impact work, and your impact partnerships should reflect that,” Bosley said. “It shouldn’t be a burden. It shouldn’t be something that you do just because [a funder] says you have to, and if you feel that way, then you just haven’t found the right partner yet.” 

Expressing real research impact is not just a matter of communicating results to others.  

“Impact is a social process. It’s a relational process. … The knowledge that is produced through research, the innovations, the technologies are communicated, distributed, used to improve the lives of people in society, and that’s certainly one of the goals of research, but it’s not the only way that the traffic flows. Society also informs our research agenda.”

The long-running Nebraska On-Farm Research Network has been a great example of research impact partnership, as Nebraska Extension partners with ag producers to find solutions that work on their farms.  

“The goal is really to enable producers to test and evaluate different products and practices on their own farms so they can make more data-driven decisions,” said Laura Thompson, the program’s co-coordinator and an associate extension educator who was among the workshop panelists.  

Crop consultant Mark Kottmeyer said farmers can be overwhelmed with salespeople pushing products and practices, but the on-farm network lets them decide for themselves what works in their operations, adopting and rejecting as needed. 

Another example discussed at the workshop is the National Science Foundation-funded collaboration between UNL and the Nebraska tribal colleges to indigenize the chemistry curriculum. That collaboration has led to an online chemistry course that Beverly DeVore-Wedding, a former adjunct instructor at Nebraska Indian Community College and UNL postdoc, will teach at Adams State University starting in August. 

“We were able to take a general chemistry class … and connect it to the community, the tribal importance of the different plants, some of their health concerns around agriculture,” DeVore-Wedding said.  

“There has to be trust in the relationship and a mutual respect for each other,” DeVore- Wedding said of research impact partnerships. 

Other panelists discussed UNL’s partnership with Lincoln Community Learning Centers and Iverness Research to develop a National Institutes of Health-funded collaboration to engage underserved middle school students with network science. 

Julie McQuillan, Willa Cather Professor of sociology, said a key to that partnership was honest communication between researchers and students. “The middle school kids are our experts in what middle school kids want,” she said. “We were very honest with the kids that we’re trying things, and we want them to tell us what works, what doesn’t work.” 

Michelle Phillips of Inverness Research said research impact partnerships are strongest when they look beyond the immediate project to building ongoing relationships.  

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