A Recap of a Workshop on Impact and the UN SDGs held for PHDs at the University of Vienna

Every small step counts in solving the big problems addressed by the seventeen UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Researchers must internalize this when confronted with putting the impact of their research in context with the SDGs. Offering this view on the topic, helped a group of early-stage researchers, who recently attended a workshop on Impact and the SDGs at the University of Vienna, to overcome any intimidation of the task. The goals can be so overwhelmingly big that facing them and imagining your research project as part of their solution, will make you feel small and insignificant. Yet the UN SDGs are a challenge we all face together. Each contribution, no matter how small or big an impact, will add up to the larger goal.

Solving social and ecological challenges with research is not a new idea. Nevertheless, it is a remarkable cultural change in all fields of research. It matters to all parties related to research, from the individual researcher to universities, funding agencies, and policymakers. The new possibilities that arrive with this cultural change, demand professional training for researchers and management who are facing this challenge. Changing the way you consider your research from an input-output oriented view to a broader input-output-outcomes-impact perspective, takes tools and knowledge.

The SDG workshop in conjunction with the Impact Award 2022 led by the University of Vienna and funded by the City of Vienna Cultural Affairs offered this opportunity. For the participants, all active PhDs with ongoing dissertation projects, it was one of their first encounters with the topic of impact related to their work. With no standardized way to measure the impact of research, it was quite hard for the participants to find a start. The workshop hosts, Sigrid Koloo and Caroline Krecké (both active in the CSO network SDG Watch Austria) equipped the participants with knowledge about the UN SDGs, how to align research projects with them, and offered different tools to realize what impact and outcomes their projects have to offer. A highlight of the workshop was to witness one of the participants suddenly understand her target groups and the impact her dissertation project can achieve.

There are three best practice tips as a major takeaway from the workshop. These are specifically for those researchers facing the challenge of creating impact.

  1. Name your target groups as precisely as possible and design the impact for each one of your target groups.
  2. Formulate your impact positively, to keep yourself and everyone, aiming for that impact, motivated.
  3. The SDGs can serve as a compass and may help to broaden the focus and find interlinkages between societal challenges and research.

All participants welcomed the cross disciplinary support of the workshop and would like to take part in similar future initiatives.

The University of Vienna is part of the REVALORISE+ project aiming at fostering valorization activities in the social sciences and humanities. The ERASMUS+ project started with an extensive data collection and literature review. One major finding was, that SSH researcher’s main motivation to engage in valorization activities is their wish to address societal problems [1]. Our experience at the University of Vienna mirrors the findings of REVALORISE+ motivating us even more to set activities for SSH researchers to engage with society and support them in addressing grand societal problems.

Download here: https://revalorise.eu/mission/investigation/

[1] See REVALORISE+ Synthesis Report, p. 30: Download here: https://revalorise.eu/mission/investigation/

Authored by

Madeleine Harbich

University of Vienna

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