Using impact to assess the university’s contribution to society: The project IMPALA


Since 2018, EFMD has led the Erasmus+ project IMPALA in Colombia, Cuba and Panama. It aimed to introduce a framework to assess the impact of the third mission activities of the universities, which will allow the institutions to better answer to the needs of their local socio-economic environment. While the project officially ends its activities, partners remain committed to sharing their experience and their expertise to support the development of the third mission.

Key facts:

  • EFMD has gathered a consortium of 19 universities and business schools from Latin America and Europe to offer an innovative solution for the assessment of a Higher Education Institution (HEI);
  • Partners have defined the concept of the third mission of the universities and designed a framework using the theory of change and “impact” to evaluate it;
  • The Impact Assessment Framework and the supporting guidelines are available in Spanish for anyone interested in replicating the initiative in their university.

Universities can appear impressive to an external, non-familiar eye: it is a state or a private entity, with lots of people involved (professors, administrators, and students) that can appear reserved for an elite part of the population and sometimes disconnected from the realities of its environment. We often mention the strategies in place for attracting new students: focusing on the quality of the courses, insisting on the employment rate, or promoting the social values defended on the campus.

But how to attract other categories of people? Artists, entrepreneurs, NGOs, civil society, public servants and museum managers can also benefit from the skilled staff of the university and the training seminars and lifelong-learning courses, from the practical, immediate solutions offered by the resource centres or from the research centres, the labs and their technical equipment. In a traditional university organisation, they are less visible than students and professors, but they represent an important part of the population to be considered to break this “unreachable” image.

The university’s third mission

Apart from research and teaching, HEIs have a third mission: they should engage with the stakeholders from their local socio-economic environment and offer them economic, social, cultural, and political activities that exploit the unique capabilities available to each institution (its academic configuration, location, history, organisational structure, etc.) in a way that benefits both society and itself. This is not specific to a region, nor is it new. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals refer to Higher Education for its objective on quality education (#4). National Quality assurance bodies and accreditation organisations are also reconsidering the tools to assess the quality of a university. Not only will they assess the teaching and research modalities, but also all the social activities carried by the institution for its environment.

Each of these third mission activities are different in terms of duration, scope, funding schemes or actors involved. Their direct and indirect beneficiaries can be diverse, and so are their results. Evaluating their quality can be challenging as traditional quality assurance systems are limited to an evaluation of the immediate, tangible result. This could apply partly to the lifelong-learning programmes, but it does not fit with the volunteering or social-support activities such as university dispensaries, democracy-building and gender-equality promotion activities. And as such, how to measure the long-term changes induced by these specific activities and their consequences on the local socio-economic environment? How to ensure that the universities respond efficiently to their needs? During its four-year execution, the Erasmus+ project IMPALA, led by EFMD, has intended to answer these questions with an innovative tool: the Impact Assessment Framework.

A result of IMPALA: the Impact Assessment Framework

This methodology is the result of the cooperation of 19 universities, business schools and associations of HEIs from Europe, Colombia, Cuba and Panama, including ESADE, ASCOLFA and Universidad de La Sabana. This is the 4th project EFMD has led in the region, after the previous initiatives on innovation and entrepreneurship in Cuba (FORGEC / Intercambio de Expertos Cuba – Unión Europea 2) and on internationalisation in Panama and Cuba (FORINT).

After the definition of the third mission and the categorisation of its activities under six groups, partners have used the theory of change to define “impact” (the long-term consequences that could be (or not) coming from the university) and design indicators to assess it. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic and the working conditions all academic people went through, partners have successfully evaluated the impact of 22 third mission activities and the long-term contribution of their institution on the local socio-economic development. All results showcased the importance of the university’s activities, and their positive consequences for society, in terms of justice, equity and peace-building and in terms of sustainable economic development. They also advocated for a revision of the strategy of the institution to further develop the relationship with all university stakeholders, establish long-term structures to regularly assess the activities, and eventually take corrective measures to better respond to their needs. As we mentioned previously in 2020, in times of post-pandemic, with reduced allocations from the public authorities and increasing competition from other HEIs, and with the forthcoming publication of national directives related to the SDGs, the IMPALA results will be used by the universities to demonstrate the quality of their institution, and flagship its social components.

IMPALA partners regularly presented their results at all EFMD conferences and also to ASCUN – The Colombian Association of Universities, to the Ministry of Education in Panama and the Ministry of Higher Education in Cuba. They also summarised it into two major publications, freely accessible on the project IMPALA website:

1/ Best Practices on the Strategic Planning of the Third Mission, Experiences of the project IMPALA (In Spanish) provides recommendations for top managers willing to develop this unit in their institution;

2/ Impact evaluation of the University Third Mission – Practical cases and lessons learnt (in Spanish) with the conclusions of the impact assessment of the 22 projects.

While the project IMPALA is now coming to an end, EFMD continues supporting the quality evaluation of the third mission through the Erasmus+ project SQUARE – Strengthening Quality and Relevance of the Third Mission in Georgian universities, led by Tbilisi State University. The results will be regularly presented to the EFMD members on social media platforms and during EFMD events.

EFMD has participated in more than 40 internationally funded projects in the fields of capacity building, quality assurance, internationalisation, impact assessment, the universities’ third mission and contribution to society, gender equality, ICT for higher education and entrepreneurship. The EFMD International Projects department regularly invites business schools and universities to join new project proposals and develop new initiatives. More information about the projects and the current opportunities can be found on the EFMD website.


Lea la versión en español en este enlace.