Analytic Quality Glossary


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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2004-21, Analytic Quality Glossary, Quality Research International,

This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 18 June, 2021 , © Lee Harvey 2004–2021.


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core definition

Impact in the context of quality in higher education refers to the consequences that the establishment of quality processes (both internal and external) has on the culture, policy, organisational framework, documentation, infrastructure, learning and teaching practices, assessment/grading of students, learning outcomes, student experience, student support, resources, learning and research environment, research outcomes and community involovement of an institution or department.

explanatory context

Impact as a concept is rarely defined as such, most discussions focus on the methodological problems of identifying and measuring impact. There is often an unstated presumption that impact implies a causal model. That quality processes precede and lead to certain outcomes or effects. The problem, in the methodological discussions, is how to establish the causal link, the nature and extent of any causal relationship in a complex situation where (a) many other variables are involved (b) the time frame is unclear (c) what the dependent variable(s) are, that is, what the impact manifestations actually are. 

In addition, there are other approaches that question not only the possibility of identifying any causal links or proxies for such causal connections but the relevance of a causal model. A critical-dialectical approach argues that the search for reductionist causal links is meaningless as (a) for the quality issue (like so much in the social world) there is not a unidirectional causal process but an interative one such that ‘cause’ and ‘effect’ are interrelated and mutually modify each other through their relationships to a much larger socio-cultural context. Adopting an approach that deconstructs the quality processes and agenda and reconstructs an alternative understanding of how it works, the underlying ideology, so as to provide a better comprehension of the impact at a macro level. A phenomenological alternative suggests that trying to establish causality in such complex social settings ignores the agency of individuals. The aim should be to interpret the way that quality processes and agendas are adopted, adapted and addressed by academics, managers, students and other stakeholders.

The various ways of attempting to establish impact include correlation analysis, historical change analysis (that is observing changes over time and attributing them to quality processes), qualitative interviews (that often seek reflections to try and get individuals views (indirectly) on changes or (directly) on the impact of quality processes), through to constructing a case based on anecdotal evidence

analytical review

Some commentators equate impact with outcomes:

Evaluation methodology usually distinguishes between inputs, outputs and outcomes. Inputs refer to the resources deployed in the programme.  Outputs are the specific interventions obtained from these resources, while outcomes are the effects that the outputs have on the underlying problem.  For example, in a training programme, inputs are the financial costs of the resources used, while outputs might be the number of training places or training months purchased from these resources.  Outcomes or impacts – a more difficult thing to measure – might be lower unemployment in the area either as a whole or among certain specific groups. (Kleinman, West and Sparkes, 1998)

The National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO, 2012) defines impact as:

All changes resulting from an activity, project, or organisation. It includes intended as well as unintended effects, negative as well as positive, and long-term as well as short-term.

NCVO (2012) explain their definition thus:

AImpact is a widely used but rarely defined term in evaluation literature. Everyone wants to know how to measure their organisation's impact but without knowing quite what they mean by the term. Blankenburg (1995) describes it as: "...long-term and sustainable changes introduced by a given intervention in the lives of beneficiaries. Impact can be related either to the specific objectives of an intervention or to unanticipated changes caused by an intervention; such unanticipated changes may also occur in the lives of people not belonging to the beneficiary group. Impact can be either positive or negative." A simpler definition might describe impact as being any consequence or effect of an activity, and it is this definition that we will use throughout this guide: Impact is any change resulting from an activity, project, or organisation. It includes intended as well as unintended effects, negative as well as positive, and long-term as well as short-term. This then is an all-encompassing definition that includes outputs and outcomes as well as unintended effects and both short-term and long-term effects, be they positive or negative, regardless of the recipient which might be organisations, individuals or the environment. Outcomes and outputs, along with expenditure and employment are therefore components of the much wider, all-encompassing definition of impact.

associated issues

related areas

See also



Kleinman, M., West, A. and Sparkes, J. (1998) Investing in employability: the roles of business and government in the transition to work, London, London School of Economics and BT.

National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO), 2012, Measuring Impact - A Guide To Resources, available at, accessed 16 January 2012. Page not available without logging in 21 September 2012.

copyright Lee Harvey 2004–2021

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