HEFCE, REF, and the Impact of Research

The Report from the Research Excellence Framework (REF) institutional pilots of impact assessment were published recently by HEFCE.

There was also some discussion in Times Higher with articles  on the general implications and the other on specific implications for the humanities.

Having read the report, I think the REF Impact assessment is highly relevant and important for many UK research data projects and probably of interest to others internationally.  For me the main points of interest were:

  • The introduction of the Impact component of REF can support the business case for research data infrastructure as that infrastructure could help institutions promote/record impact;
  • The REF timeline 2011-2014;
  • The pilot exercise affirmed the use of case studies as the best approach for REF;
  • Use of “reach” and “significance” to assess impact in REF and the initial draft list of impact indicators in Appendix G (draft ‘common menu’ of impact indicators) from the REF draft guidelines;
  • The KRDS Benefits Taxonomy has a good fit to a lot of its discussion with dimension 1 (direct/indirect), dimension 2 near-term/long term, and dimension 3 private/public – although for REF only non-academic stakeholders are in scope;
  • The “Best Practice” (section 7) and “Bad Practice” (section 8 ) of the report provide good generic guidance on completing impact case studies.

The Pilot report notes that the impact element in the REF has the potential to create a number of positive incentives, including:

  • Encouraging collaboration between HE and industry, the public sector and third sector.
  • Encouraging institutions to support their researchers in more fully realising the wider benefits of the research they undertake. This should include support for realising the benefits from ‘pure’ or ‘basic’ research, as well as supporting research with more immediate potential application.

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