Conceptualizing the societal impact of research in terms of elements of logic models: A survey of researchers in sub-Saharan Africa

Nelius Boshoff*, Stefan P. L. de Jong

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


This study addressed the conceptualization of the societal impact of research from the perspective of programme evaluation, by focusing on the three 'result' elements of logic models: outputs, outcomes, and impact. In research evaluation, the distinction could resemble a difference between product, use, and benefit. The study established whether researchers in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), South Africa excluded, view societal impact as extending across all three elements or as confined to the last element only. A web survey of 485 SSA researchers was conducted, as researchers from this region are not yet bounded by policy definitions of impact. The survey imposed the three elements of logic models onto five hypothetical descriptions of 'impactful' research initiatives. Respondents rated each element in terms of how much it reflects the societal impact of research. For any initiative, use was more likely to be considered a strong example of societal impact compared to a product, but less likely so compared to benefit. Between 23% and 43% of respondents rated all three elements as strong examples of the societal impact of research. Responses were analyzed by SSA region and the research domain and years of research experience of survey participants. An open-ended question about own understandings of societal impact was included as well in the survey. The responses portrayed impact as a (generally) positive effect that contributes to change in the daily life of human kind. The expectation that research should have impact at an almost general level of aggregation could be unique to the SSA context.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)48-65
JournalResearch Evaluation
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • Africa
  • logic model
  • research impact
  • societal impact
  • survey

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