Impact doesn’t have to be cryptic. By aiming high and involving others right from the start, it’s possible to create a robust set of activities or projects that deliver significant and far-reaching impact, explain Dr Richard Vytniorgu, Impact and Postdoctoral Research Fellow and Dr Heike Bartel, Associate Professor in German Studies – both of whom are based at the School of Cultures, Languages and Area Studies at the University of Nottingham and work on the AHRC-funded Hungry for Words Network.
Our AHRC-funded Hungry for Words Network explores the narratives of men and boys with eating disorders. These include (but are not limited to) anorexia, bulimia, and muscle dysmorphia. We’re challenging the stigma associated with eating disorders in men, and by extension, other mental health issues that affect people of all genders.
Crucially, we knew that people outside the university wanted to be in on this right from the start.
Together with our fantastic partner, Woven Ink, we created an animated video that gives voice to the experiences of real men seeking help from their GP practice for the first time. By involving men who are affected by eating disorders, we amplified rather than took over their voices. We made them the centre of our work.
Gradually, we tapped into our existing network of healthcare practitioners, educators, and third-sector contacts to get feedback on the video as it was being developed. This was important. By bringing in potential stakeholders from the start, we involved them in the development process so that when it came to disseminate the video, we had a ready network to help us do so. Not only did their feedback help inform the animation’s development; it also endorsed our project when it came to seeking professional accreditation.
In March we launched the animation to coincide with Eating Disorders Awareness Week 2020, in collaboration with our partner, the Derby-based eating disorders charity, First Steps ED. Behind the scenes, we were also creating a more substantial learning tool into which the video is embedded.
Now, we could easily have just distributed this e-learning tool through our networks – that’s a good place to start. But we also knew that endorsement and accreditation from professional bodies would take the tool considerably further.
We first approached the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Scotland, and they were pleased to publicise the animation on their website. We then applied for and received official endorsement from the Royal College of Nursing. Publicity from both these prestigious professional bodies has been immensely helpful and paved the way for our biggest achievement yet.
Just two weeks ago our training tool officially received professional accreditation from the Royal College of GPs. We also got some fantastic feedback from the reviewers which we can use to strengthen our REF Impact Case study.
What we’ve learned
Now, while our impact journey hasn’t been a walk in the park, it’s been totally worthwhile. Here’s why:
- Enthusiasm. We were really enthusiastic about our work. Sounds trite, but it rubs off on others and can win them over. It’s important that others can recognise this.
- Flexibility. We were open to new ideas, people, and (within reason) activities. Flexibility is key to helping your impact take off in those unexpected directions.
- Ambition. At times we could have settled for what we’d already achieved but talking to others convinced us we could aim high. It paid off.
- Collaborative. Collaboration sometimes seems more like two parallel lines running off in tandem. Together, but not really in touch with each other. From the very beginning, we asked our stakeholders what they thought. Now ask yourself: could I have done this work without them? If the answer is ‘yes’, then it’s not really been a genuine collaboration.
We certainly feel more confident now to plan for impact in ways that aim high and involve others. It’s a generative process. Once you begin, hold fast and see where it will take you. We’re certainly glad we did.
Before you go: we’d be really grateful if you could let us know what you think of our animation by selecting answers to two quick Yes/No questions.