Research Impact


Initiate, Nurture, Evolve

Jenny Ames Consulting can work with you to:

    • Develop a research impact culture in your Department, Institute or University
    • Facilitate understanding of research impact generally and the requirements of Research Excellence Framework (REF) impact case studies
    • Help researchers and impact managers to plan and produce the best possible case studies for the REF
Accelerating collaborations between universities and users of research, including businesses, the public and voluntary sectors, civic society and communities

I would recommend the training my colleagues and I received on writing impact case studies. The session was really useful and intellectually stimulating. I feel the day met the objectives we wanted, which was to help staff understand what impact and evidence is. The level of feedback each of the participants received on their particular case studies was very good. We feel much more confident in identifying the kinds of impact our research has on the world beyond academia.

Dr Samantha BroadheadHead of Research, Leeds Arts University

What is research impact?

A simple definition of research impact is “the benefit that research leads to in society”. This excludes any benefit to furthering the research itself or any benefit to the university. For example, the benefit to a university of being awarded further research funds is excluded from the definition of research impact.

Impact and the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

Since 2008, when the Research Excellence Framework (REF) concept of research impact began to be developed, the government has placed increasing emphasis on ensuring that university research benefits society, including the economy. Research impact case studies were a specific component of the REF in 2014 and the weighting for them increased in 2021. The grades awarded to case studies are linked to funding received by universities as a result of performance in the REF.

The inclusion of impact case studies in REF 2014 is against a background of a long history of academics working with research users to ensure that their research is of value to those users and society more widely. Indeed, in some subject areas, working with research users has always been an integral part of undertaking research.

Because REF impact case studies are linked to university funding (the weighting for case studies was 25% for REF 2021, compared to 60% for outputs and 15% for the environment statement), researchers and impact managers make considerable efforts to ensure that the case studies are presented in the best possible way.

The UK higher education funding bodies manage the REF. They issue detailed guidance regarding what they expect to see in a case study. However, the language surrounding research impact seems to have developed various terms and words with specific meanings. These are not readily understood by an individual who is reading the guidance for the first time. (Nevertheless, the documents are extremely useful to those who have a track record of developing or supporting successful impact case studies for previous REFs.)

For any given REF, a substantial proportion of case study authors are likely to be developing a REF case study for the first time. This means that support from experienced colleagues who may be either ‘in-house’ or external, is extremely helpful to ensure that the best possible case studies are returned to the REF.

To find out how Jenny Ames Consulting can help you with your REF impact case study activities, click here.

Developing a research impact culture

REF exercises only occur about every seven years. In many universities, perhaps most time and energy is devoted to achieving and evidencing research impact in the two years leading up to a REF. Possibly the time when there is the greatest wealth of understanding concerning writing case studies is in the few months before and after the REF documents are submitted.

This uneven emphasis on impact as part of REF preparations is no doubt due to researchers needing to spend time on other activities once all documents have been submitted to a REF.

Because the interval between REFs is around 7 years, it is very likely that some case study authors and impact managers will have moved to another institution or retired or redeployed before the next REF. This means that it is very easy to lose or forget learning from one REF to the next, meaning that it has to be re-learnt next time round.

There are several things that might be done to retain and expand knowledge of impact and encourage activities to achieve and evidence impact.

Jenny Ames Consulting can work with you by facilitating workshops and providing consultancy. To find out more, click here

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