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Writing Effective Impact Statements: Who Cares? So What?

Why Impact Statements?

Impact statements demonstrate how our work makes a difference in the lives of people, communities, and the environment.  Documenting the results of our efforts is also increasingly expected by funders and stakeholders. Those of us in the public sector identify and illustrate how our work makes a difference in our clientele’s economic, environmental, and social well-being through impact statements and impact reports.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture asks land-grant universities to collect and submit information on "impacts" of teaching, research, and Cooperative Extension programs.

At the federal level, impact statements are shared with members of Congress and other key decision makers. In Virginia, impact statements are used to highlight the value of our work to the Congressional delegation, members of the Virginia General Assembly, and other supporters and stakeholders.

Impact reporting is important because it:

  • Helps us reflect on and improve our work.
  • Demonstrates the difference we make in people’s lives, communities, and the environment.
  • Improves visibility of programs (local, state, national).
  • Generates support.
  • Is a repository of results for speeches and other communication.
  • Helps us focus on issues, initiatives, and program themes.
  • Builds greater understanding of our programs by the public. Illustrates our accountability.

Impact reporting is important to land-grant faculty and staff because:

  • Good impact reports can enhance performance appraisal as well as promotion and tenure/continued appointment.
  • Stakeholders are asking for it.
  • It lessens urgent requests for program examples, etc.
  • Your work receives more visibility.
  • Your work is exposed to potential funders.
  • It can summarize and celebrate a job well done.

What is Impact?

Impact means the reportable and verifiable difference a land-grant program makes in the lives of people. Impacts are the documented results of a program, course, or research project.

Impact reporting:

  • Illustrates the importance of the land-grant effort.
  • Describes the positive change we make in social, economic, and environmental conditions in Virginia, the nation, and around the world.
  • Provides public accountability.
  • Shows the economic value of our work through:
    • Increased income.
    • Savings.
    • Increased productivity.
    • Value added.
    • Expected values of outcomes.
    • Alternative opportunity cost of capital.
    • Willingness to pay.
    • Multiplier effect.
    • Increased quality of life (health, education, etc.).
    • Non-market benefits (cost effectiveness, e.g.).
    • Values of indirect outcomes.
    • High rates of return on investment.
  • Provides teaching/learning, research/discovery, and extension and outreach/engagement program accountability.
  • Shows a return on investment.
  • Fosters better public understanding of the whole picture of teaching/learning, research/discovery, and extension and outreach/engagement.
  • Provides a reputation that improves future funding opportunities.
  • Increases awareness of programs within the institution.
  • Helps us reflect and learn from our work.

An impact statement is a brief summary, in lay terms, of the economic, environmental, and/or social impact of our efforts. It states accomplishments and their payoff to society by answering the questions:

  • Who cares?
  • So what?

Our impact audiences include:

  • State officials,
  • Federal officials,
  • Local governing bodies,
  • The general public,
  • Peers,
  • External funding sources,
  • Industry representatives,
  • Alumni, and
  • Students.

These audiences have:

  • Some influence and control over our programs.
  • Want information for decision-making.
  • Have many people competing for their attention.
  • Want quantifiable differences brought about by investments in our programs.

Writing an Impact Statement

An impact statement:

  • Briefly summarizes, in lay terms, the difference your teaching/learning, research/discovery, and extension and outreach/engagement efforts have made.
  • States accomplishment and creates strong support for programs.
  • Answers the questions... "So what?” and “Who cares?"
  • Conveys accomplishments in simple language free of technical jargon.
  • Is submitted by faculty for three to five efforts each year.

Audience for impact statements:

Your impact audience is the public: local, state, and federal officials, your peers, external grantors, and industry representatives. Keep in mind that both basic and applied studies have impacts.

Impact statements follow a simple formulaI:

  1. Describe the issue or problem statement (relevance) in simple terms appropriate for your principal audience.
    • Why are we doing this teaching/learning, research/discovery, and extension and outreach/engagement program?
    • What needs were expressed?
    • What was the situation/problem, and why was it a problem?
    • What college initiative and/or Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES) planned program is addressed?
  2. Provide an action statement (response).
    • What did you do?
    • What were the key elements?
    • Who was the target audience?
    • What resources were expended?
  3. Describe the impact (results).
    • The impact of your works is in the answer to the question "What is the payoff socially, economically, and environmentally?"
    • What happened to the audience as a result of the work described?
      • What knowledge was gained?
      • What skills were increased?
      • What practices/behavior changed? How many people changed?
      • How much money was saved?
      • Were policies changed as a result?  
      • What were the end results (quantitative and qualitative)
    • How was evidence collected to document the impacts (surveys, observation, etc.)?
    • What was the scope of the impact (campus, regional, statewide, etc.)
  4. Who was responsible?
    • List collaborators or contributors.
  5. Your name and contact information.