Tracking stakeholder engagement and research impact

By Cathy Day

Cathy Day (biography)

Is there an easy and efficient way to keep track of stakeholder engagement and research impact?

My colleagues and I have developed a system with two components: (1) noting engagement and impact soon after they occur and (2) recording them in a way that enables the information to be extracted for whatever purpose is required. I describe the tracking spreadsheet, the recording process we use and then how the spreadsheet is used for reporting.

Tracking spreadsheet

The Microsoft Excel tracking spreadsheet has two parts: (1) the engagement or impact and (2) the research to which these are related. These are arranged in columns, which can be adapted for the needs of any particular group.

As shown in the extract from the spreadsheet below, the columns we use for engagement and impact are:

  • date of engagement/impact
  • activity
  • details
  • engagement (Yes/No)
  • impact (Yes/No)
  • lead researcher
  • other researchers.

For ‘activity’ we use a one- or two-word description selected from a dropdown list for the following activities:

  • media engagement (writing for or speaking about research)
  • media interest (report by the media on our research, without involving the researcher)
  • department contact (working with a national or state government body)
  • government contact (meeting or working with members of parliament)
  • stakeholder engagement
  • commissioned work
  • appointment (to a statutory or advisory body)
  • keynote address
  • conference presentation.

By minimising choice here, we can search and sort efficiently, depending on the particular purposes, such as university reporting requirements.

Extract from a tracking spreadsheet showing engagement (Eng) and impact (Imp) (supplied by Cathy Day)

As can be seen in the extract from the spreadsheet below, the columns we use for research are:

  • theme
  • project or sub-theme
  • paper/research/presentation
  • date of research
  • project identifier (not shown)
  • notes (not shown).

Our research group categorises all our investigations into broad, overarching themes such as ‘indigenous health’, ‘cardiovascular disease’ or ‘methods’, and these are provided in a drop-down list. The sub-theme or project column offers more detailed options such as ‘tobacco’, ‘social inequalities’, and ‘big data’.

Extract from a tracking spreadsheet showing research (supplied by Cathy Day)

Recording engagement and impact

Our entire research group meets fortnightly to keep each other informed of our work, to share ideas and to report to each other on all aspects of progress. These fortnightly group meetings include a standing agenda item on engagement and impact. At this point in the meeting, researchers inform each other of activity within the last fortnight including media coverage of their research, stakeholder engagement, advice provided to federal and state government agencies, collaborations with health-related non-government organisations and advocacy groups, changes in health practice based on their research and meetings with government ministers and members of parliament. This information is briefly noted in the meeting minutes.

A summary of this activity is then entered into the tracking spreadsheet by the research support team. Since this reporting happens on a fortnightly basis, the information is fresh in the researchers’ minds and detail is unlikely to be forgotten.

Reporting on engagement and impact

The columns were developed based on the variety of ways the group is required to report engagement and impact. It allows sorting by date of research or date of impact, as required, and can be filtered by the project identifier, in order to meet various reporting needs. For example, it can identify all activities for the group in a calendar year, or all activities led by a certain researcher, or all activities associated with a project or published paper.

The tracking spreadsheet allows for ambiguity (eg., imprecision in the date) and flexibility. For example, the two main Australian funding agencies categorise engagement and impact differently. The Australian Research Council defines ‘engagement’ as a subset of ‘impact’, while Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council considers them to be separate outcomes. The tracking spreadsheet allows activity to be engagement or impact or both, and no column has to be filled in, to allow for engagement or impact that doesn’t fall neatly into the categories.


The use of a standardised, centralised repository for recording engagement and impact soon after it occurs has enabled the group to:

  • rapidly answer ad hoc queries about research, such as ‘what has been the impact of the group’s work on smoking by indigenous Australians?’
  • formally report to various funding agencies
  • help researchers frame their promotion applications.

Reflections on these reports have, in turn, enabled the group to identify the strategies for maximising stakeholder engagement and research impact.

What strategies have you found useful for keeping track of stakeholder engagement and/or research impact?

Biography: Cathy Day PhD is Research Manager of the Epidemiology for Policy and Practice Group in the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health, Research School of Population Health at The Australian National University.

Cathy Day is a member of blog partner PopulationHealthXchange, which is in the Research School of Population Health at The Australian National University.

3 thoughts on “Tracking stakeholder engagement and research impact”

  1. Thanks for an interesting post. We have launched a similar (though much more complex!) project in Denmark. I am curious to learn more about your definition of impact (cf. Susan Goff’s comment) and engagement. I believe the standard literature would ask for validity about final change or effect, even if this is only a contribution to final effects or change. Self-reported impact assessment, for many reasons, can be flawed with anecdotal data (perhaps a better word would be activity, output, outcome?). Many thanks.

  2. Yes – agree that it’s useful – however if we approach impact from a participatory research perspective, the dimensions of social change, practice change, changes to inclusion, changes to world views and decision making involving new learning and values resulting from engagement and research would also be important. I believe this is consistent with Guba and Lincoln’s validity criterion of “catalytic” impact. It is important to maintain impacts on academic outcomes too as this discussion suggests (“paper, research, presentation”), but unless papers are broadly read and decision makers use research outcomes, other forms of impact are equally relevant for tracking impact.


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