On 31 July 2021, the REF 2021 recommenced. In this post, I suggest various points for impact case study authors to consider. These relate to each section of the impact case study template. I cover the impact sections first. This is because I have found that these sections cause most uncertainty for authors.  My aim is to help you to prepare the best possible impact case studies. 

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, revised deadlines for the 2021 UK Research Excellence Framework (REF) were announced in June 2020. The new submission deadline is 31 March 2021. On 31 July 2020, the funding bodies published Guidance on Revisions to REF 2021. In parallel, universities have been ramping up their preparations for the recommencement of the REF on 31 July.

Perhaps, impact is the element of the REF that has suffered most as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. But, given where we are now, what can we do to prepare the best possible REF impact case studies for the new deadline?

‘Details of the impact’ section of the case study template (section 4)

This is most likely to be one of the two sections that you need to focus on to give your best possible REF impact case study. This is because:

*You or others may not have been able to complete activities leading to impacts by the original deadline of 31 July 2020.

*In areas of work related to the pandemic, impacts may have started to occur during lockdown or subsequently and may still be on-going.

*You may not have been able to progress the writing due to other calls on your time e.g. caring responsibilities, home-schooling, preparing on-line teaching sessions.

*You may not be completely sure what is needed in this section.

My experience is that this section often gets left. It is not at all uncommon for researchers to feel uncertain about what it should cover.

‘Sources to corroborate the impact’ section of the case study template (section 5)

This is the other section that you are likely to need to give some extended time to. It goes hand-in-hand with ‘Details of the impact’ (section 4). You will need to refer to, or quote from, your sources in section 4. Your progress with this section may also have been delayed by the pandemic. This might especially be the case if:

*You are including testimonials or factual statements from individuals.

*Activities leading to impact still need to be undertaken by you or others.

*Information from activities leading to impact still needs to be processed and interpreted so that you are able to describe, and perhaps quantify, the impacts. This includes their significance and reach.

‘Underpinning research’ section of the case study template (section 2)

I find that researchers are most happy with writing this section. They are familiar with their own research. What you may find difficult is focusing the section on the information asked for in the case study template.

It may help you to work out which of your research insights or findings underpin your impacts after you are clear what your impacts are. In other words, it may help you to work backwards, starting with the impacts you will claim in section 4. You might then ‘sense-check’ if you have selected the correct research insights by working forward – writing down the steps from the insights to the impacts. This should also help you to produce your best possible REF impact case study.

‘References to the research’ section of the case study template (section 3)

There is much emphasis within universities on the star rating of research outputs. This means that it can take some effort for researchers to absorb the fact that outputs that report research findings underpinning impacts ‘only’ need to be of 2 star quality. Very good if they may be of a higher rating, but it won’t affect the rating of the case study.

In fact, not every single one of your outputs needs to be 2 star or above, providing that ‘the body of outputs’ is of at least 2 star quality. But, do make sure that each of your major impacts is underpinned by an output of at least 2 star quality.

‘Summary of the impact’ section of the case study template (section 1)

This section is important but it is perhaps best if you write it last. Remember that it should be a ‘summary of the impact’ not an abstract of the case study. The indicative word limit is only 100 words. It takes time to get it right.

How can Jenny Ames Consulting help you?

We provide flexible, personalised help. Support is bespoke because everyone is different and each case study is different with different requirements. We are focused on helping you to produce your best possible REF impact case studies.

For the foreseeable future, all our work is on-line. This has many advantages for you:

*Avoids the possibility of cancellation due to local lockdown or self-isolation.

*Lower cost for you (because there are no travel costs for you to cover).

*We can fit in around your life, including child and elder care, work commitments and domestic chores. Some evening and weekend slots are available, if it helps you.

We can help you by:

*Checking that all the key points needed in your case study are covered and in the correct section.

*Critiquing drafts and letting you know the positives as well as areas where more work would help.

*Providing writing support to help the text flow and ensure an easy read, editing for final sense checking and polishing.

*Providing off-line support as well as 1-2-1 and group support via Zoom, Skype and Teams.


As well as posts about impact, a series of bite-size video-podcasts dealing with specific topics researchers often ask about can be accessed via the blog page of our website. These are free to all.

General points

As a result of the pandemic, the revised guidance from the funding bodies sets out various points including:

*The deadline for achievement of claimed impacts is now 31 December 2020.

*The deadline for submission of case studies is now 31 March 2021.

*The deadline for research outputs that underpin the impacts being in the public domain remains 31 December 2020. But the funding bodies have set out a ‘provision for submitting delayed outputs’ in the Guidance.

*There is no requirement for staff to include impacts achieved between 31 July 2020 (the original deadline for impact achievement) and 31 December 2020 (the revised deadline for impact achievement).

*The Guidance sets out provision for an optional statement to be included to explain the disruption of activities or evidence collection.

Jenny Ames had a 35 year career both as an academic and a senior university manager before establishing Jenny Ames Consulting Ltd in 2017. She has led on all aspects of research at faculty and university level. She was also founding Research Impact Lead for University Alliance.
Jenny is available to give talks, run workshops, lead brainstorming sessions and provide mentoring and coaching. She works with clients using virtual environments.
Jenny can advise on all aspects of REF 2021 preparations and strategy development and implementation regarding research and cross-organisation partnerships. She also coaches researchers on a 1-2-1 basis or by group coaching. She holds a Postgraduate Certificate in Coaching and Mentoring Practice from Oxford Brookes University and is a Member of the Association for Coaching (MAC).


Author Jenny Ames

Working with Universities, Businesses and their Stakeholders to benefit Society.

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