Impact is increasingly important for science policy-makers; science policy studies has reacted this heightened urgency by studying these policy-interventions meaning that policy has developed more quickly than theory. This has led to the prevalence of a ‘common sense’ impact definition: research’s societal impact are direct economic effects, such as income generated by licenses, patents and spin-out companies. These indicators are recognised as weak proxies for research’s societal benefits, and in response, science policy has undertaken a huge descriptive effort to more precisely define impact. SSH disciplines have been highly active in this because economic metrics are very poor measures of their societal impact. One interesting theoretical development describing diversity was Spaapen and Van Drooge’s ‘productive interactions’ concept. In this paper we seek to realise the potential that Spaapen & Van Drooge’s productive interactions concept offers, but which we argue has been lost through its operationalisation as ‘counting interactions’. We address the wider conceptual framework for describing SSH pathways to societal impact by paying attention not only to productive interactions but to the changes they mediate. Drawing on a comparative analysis of 60 examples of SSH impact, we develop a typology of SSH pathways to societal impact. We conclude by arguing the usefulness of the extended conceptual framework and propose policy measures to stimulate and support impact processes.
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