What is societal impact?

Societal impact is a vaguely defined term that relates to the effects and consequences of scientific activity for society. Societal impact is often associated with the explicit intention to make science more accountable and effective in solving societal problems, though it is usually meant to imply unintended long-term effects and consequences as well. Throughout the past two decades the terminology has been widely used in labelling a range of efforts (mainly in science, technology and innovation funding and policy) that aim to incentivise and measure societal effects and consequence of scientific activity. In our project, we refer to the totality of these efforts as societal impact policies and initiatives or societal impact agendas.

  • Societal impact is a term that articulates and (re)frames questions of relevance of science for society in current debates. 
  • Societal impact revolves around the aspect of usefulness of science and research for society. It also reflects a search and desire to trace and demonstrate science’s contributions to society and to find answers for how to be more effective in solving societal problems of all kinds.
  • At the same time, societal impact is not a concept that entails a theory of societal change based on scientific progress. There is no unitary, theoretically scrutinized or operationalizable definition.