Organizations doing research on work and health should care whether their work has an impact on efforts to prevent work injury and illness, improve recovery and return to work following injury and illness, and ensure the sustainable employment of people with chronic illnesses and disabilities. Understanding this, the Institute for Work & Health developed a Research Impact Model (IWH-RIM) in 2010 to guide its thinking about, and documentation of, impact. The model is summarized on the IWH website and was explained in a paper published in 2020 by the American Journal of Industrial Medicine (doi:10.1002/ajim.23201).
The IWH-RIM has resonated with other organizations doing research on work-related health and safety. Several have used the model to help them develop their own methods for assessing the impact of their work and, in some cases, to help guide their approach to knowledge transfer and exchange (KTE).
ISCRR draws on levels of impact, adopts case study approach
Australia’s Institute for Safety, Compensation and Recovery Research (ISCRR) was established in 2009 as a partnership between Monash University, WorkSafe Victoria and the Transport Accident Commission. ISCRR’s primary role is to facilitate research and best practice in the areas of injury prevention, rehabilitation and workers’ compensation.
In 2018, WorkSafe Victoria and ISCRR developed a research impact framework based on the IWH-RIM. Like the IWH-RIM, the ISCRR framework focuses on impact at three levels: research dissemination and diffusion, informing decision making, and contributing to societal change.
Early in our work to develop a research impact framework, we identified the IWH Research Impact Model as a helpful starting point, says Samantha Barker, ISCRR’s director.
We spoke with key staff at IWH about the model, and the framework we developed is quite close to the IWH approach. We are glad to have had the assistance of IWH in this important work.
During 2019 and 2020, the framework was piloted on 17 projects. An article describing the process and results of the pilot is available on the ISCRR website. One noteworthy finding was that projects with strong stakeholder engagement from the outset had stronger indicators of impact. This is consistent with IWH’s experience and with the research evidence on factors affecting uptake of research findings.
Like IWH, ISCRR has adopted a case study approach to validate research impact findings. ISCRR has noted that its KTE strategy is influenced by its research impact framework, which, in turn, is closely modelled on the IWH-RIM. ISCRR is currently working on several research impact case studies guided by this framework.
NFA logic model, impact assessment tool informed by IWH model
Denmark’s National Research Center for the Working Environment (Nationale Forkningscenter for Arbejdsmiljo or NFA) is a research institute affiliated with the Danish Ministry of Employment. It conducts research on the working environment; disseminates research-based knowledge to workplaces, government officials, labour and employer organizations, and safety consultants; and participates in the training of researchers and in other educational activities at universities in Denmark.
The NFA developed a logic model to inform its understanding of the mechanisms through which impact occurs and the different types of impact. This model was influenced by the IWH-RIM. For example, the logic model, as does the IWH-RIM, differentiates among immediate, intermediate and end outcomes. The NFA’s work also echoes IWH’s use of impact case studies, which is among the ways that the NFA documents impact.
The IWH Research Impact Model was an inspiration for our own efforts to develop a framework to understand and assess impact, says NFA Chief Consultant Dr. Ole Henning Sørensen.
It has also been very helpful to the NFA in the design of our mechanisms for engaging with our stakeholders, adds Senior Researcher Dr. Johnny Dyreborg.
The NFA ultimately used its logic model in the development of an instrument for providing a quantitative assessment of impact of its overall program of research. It published a paper about the instrument in the journal Research Evaluation (doi:10.1093/reseval/rvab036/6482054).
IWH model provides “valuable conceptual framework” to NIOSH centre of excellence
The Center for Work, Health & Well-being is one of ten Centers of Excellence funded by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in the United States to conduct research on the concepts of Total Worker Health®. The mission of the Center, situated in Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, is to protect and promote the health, safety and well-being of workers through designing, implementing and disseminating effective workplace policies, programs and practices.
The Center engages with stakeholders who have the capacity to influence and/or implement policies and practices affecting worker health, safety and well-being. To guide its interactions with these stakeholders, the Center developed an outreach logic model, which was adapted from the IWH-RIM.
The IWH Research Impact Model provided a valuable conceptual framework as we developed the Center’s Outreach Core Logic Model, says Dr. Jack Dennerlein, associate director of the Center and a professor in the Department of Physical Therapy, Movement and Rehabilitation Sciences at Northeastern University's Bouvé College of Health Sciences.
It helped us think about the different ways in which our work can have an impact on key users of our research, how we can measure impact, and how we engage with our partners. Unlike traditional linear models, the IWH-RIM builds in feedback from partners, reflecting a commitment to knowledge transfer and exchange throughout the research process.
Like the IWH impact model (and, therefore, also similar to the approaches taken by ISCRR and NFA), the Center’s logic model identifies immediate outcomes of research (such as research outputs and policy implications developed from research findings), intermediate outcomes (such as use of research to influence policy-making and workplace practices) and final outcomes (such as improved worker health at the workplace level and improved health equity at a societal level). Also like the IWH-RIM, the Center’s model notes the role of stakeholders (or “dissemination and implementation partners”) in the change process.
The use of the IWH-RIM by these three organizations shows that its key concepts ring true with others working in the same field of research as IWH and has influenced their approach to identifying and measuring impact. IWH continues to use its Research Impact Model as the framework for its own case study approach to assessing the impact of its research at the intersection of work and health.