How Training Can Equip Research Teams to Increase Impact

The Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions works with Pew’s evidence project to support climate research scholars

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How Training Can Equip Research Teams to Increase Impact

Editor's note: This article has been corrected to attribute the highlighted quote to an anonymous program participant, not the Q&A subject.

The Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions (PICS) is an independent climate research collaboration among four universities in the Canadian province of British Columbia. The annual PICS Scholars Forum offers emerging researchers working on PICS-funded projects an opportunity to connect with one another, learn about emerging research into climate solutions, and build skills and knowledge to further the impact of their research. At the 2021 forum, PICS worked with the evidence project at The Pew Charitable Trusts to adapt the Impact Initiative training workshop, which was developed by Leo Curran of the Pew marine fellows program and Angela Bednarek of the evidence project.

This interview with Kristy Faccer, a PICS program manager at the University of Victoria, has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: What do you think is unique about PICS’ approach to research on climate solutions?

I was drawn to PICS because, unlike other efforts that focus on understanding the problem or science of a changing climate, PICS’ primary interest is in co-creating solutions. All the research that PICS supports is conducted in close partnership with “solution seekers”—decision-makers and managers in all types of organizations, be they business, government, nongovernment, communities, or First Nations. Each team working on PICS-supported projects is made up of experts in the field, emerging scholars, and solution-seeking partners who work together to create new and meaningful climate solutions that are designed for use from the start.

Q: How did the collaboration between PICS and Pew start?

Our work together at the 2021 Scholars Forum was the most recent chapter in an ongoing relationship between PICS and Pew. A few years ago, Angela Bednarek of Pew’s evidence project introduced PICS to the impact tracking framework that Pew uses in the Lenfest Ocean Program, which offered PICS a way to go beyond the ordinary measure of research influence—that is, academic citations—to capture the many types of impact our projects can have. For example, the framework measures changes in decision-makers’ understanding of problems, new engagement among otherwise disconnected groups, and many often-overlooked project effects that, when taken together, can move the needle on climate change mitigation or adaptation. An adapted version of the framework continues to play an important role in our grant-making and program management.

The relationship deepened in 2019 when I joined the evidence project’s Transforming Evidence Funders Network (TEFN), a global cross-sector network of funders invested in initiatives that advance evidence use. At our monthly meetings, we discuss the various ways we support projects that put knowledge into action: We share insights from emerging strategies, retrospectives on longstanding efforts, and perspective on a variety of topics in between. I’m also a member of a TEFN working group that focuses on how grant-making criteria, processes, and funding models can make a difference in solutions-oriented research.

Q: PICS adapted the evidence project’s Impact Initiative for the 2021 PICS Scholars Forum, correct?

Yes. I worked with Angela and her Pew colleagues Leo Curran and Ben Miyamoto as well as colleagues at PICS on the adaptation of Pew’s model. We then co-delivered this framework with Pew during a training to nearly 50 PICS research scholars in the fall of 2021.

Q: What inspired that idea?

It stemmed from my participation in a TEFN workshop facilitated by Leo and inspired by his work supporting the Pew marine fellows program. Leo, Angela, and I all thought that adapting the Pew marine fellows’ training would provide researchers with guidance on how to embed insights from their solution-seeking partners throughout the research process. While Lenfest’s tracking framework helps us recognize and report on impact in real time, the training equips researchers with the tools, knowledge, and skills they need to plan for greater impact and influence in their work.

Q: How did the PICS scholars react to the training?

The scholars typically spend a lot of time zooming in on particular aspects of their academic projects such as data analysis, but the 2021 forum was about zooming out: exploring the broader environment where their solutions will be implemented. The training focused on constructing what we call “impact pathways” for their projects: visual representations of people, activities, assumptions, and other variables that can affect their project’s impact. The feedback from the forum attendees was overwhelmingly positive. Both verbally and in our written follow-up, we heard things like:

“I really liked [how the impact pathways] visualize the connections between different aspects of the same PICS project. I'd definitely like to see this, or a similar tool, used as a living conceptual map of the project as it develops.”

PICS Scholars Forum Attendee Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions, University of Victoria

Q: What’s next?

We’ll be working with our scholars to revisit their impact pathways and to adjust them as their projects progress. We also see an opportunity to involve the principal investigators, the senior faculty on each project, in future work constructing and updating the pathways. Finally, I’ve discussed with colleagues at Pew the possibility of facilitating similar conversations for our fellow TEFN participants. The peer learning it inspired was valuable for our scholars, and the collaboration generated meaningful insights for PICS’ work in funding and facilitating research. As I’ve learned in the Funder Network’s monthly discussions and working group meetings, opportunities to “pull back the curtain” on funding practices can offer insight about how and why funders do what they do—and inspire innovation and collaboration.

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