What is it about?

The article discusses how academic researchers view societal impact in research governance, their societal goals, and the communication formats they use. The study is based on a survey conducted among 499 researchers in Germany in 2020. The results indicate 1) that most researchers regard societal engagement as part of their job, but 2) few think that it is a priority at their institution, and 3) even fewer think that communication departments reach relevant stakeholders in society. 4) Disciplinary and organizational context factors influence researchers’ societal goals and use of communication formats. 5) Contributing to education is the most important societal goal that researchers associate with their work, followed by stimulating public discourse and contributing to informed political decision-making. 6) Events, media, and educational formats are commonly used communication formats, but 7) university researchers report very low usage compared to researchers at applied universities or at independent institutes. The study recommends 1) linking impact policies with epistemic practices, and 2) implementing decentralized support structures on the mesolevel of research organizations to address the complexities of the sciences and their many publics.

Featured Image

Why is it important?

The societal impact of research is often considered from the perspective of the general public and does not sufficiently take into account the perspective of researchers, the epistemic diversity of research, and institutional factors. This study provides initial empirical evidence on the diversification of impact goals, practices, and scientific organizational structures. The study is therefore highly relevant for science researchers, science management, and science policy.


Conducting this study, together with Marcel Hebing, was a great pleasure and highly informative – it helped us tremendously to better understand the researchers' perspective on societal impact, as well as disciplinary and institutional differences.

Benedikt Fecher
Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: How do researchers approach societal impact?, PLoS ONE, July 2021, PLOS, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0254006.
You can read the full text:




The following have contributed to this page