Impact for the REF

The Research Excellence Framework is the system for assessing the quality of research in UK higher education institutions.

Since REF2014, impact has been included as an element of this assessment. As in 2014, the current REF exercise, REF2021, will assess impact by way of case studies and the impact environment of an institution / research discipline. The results will be published in Spring 2022.

Each unit of assessment (based on research discipline) will submit a limited number of impact case studies to the REF, which should demonstrate the very best impact generated by research at each institution. At SHU, each unit of assessment has submitted between 2 and 6 impact case studies.

Please note – research impact is included in the REF to emphasise its importance in today’s research environment and reward excellence where it is found. Not all research impact will result in a REF case study as only a limited number can be submitted. Impact is an important part of research, whether or not it results in a REF case study. 

What is REF Impact?

For the purposes of the REF, impact is defined as ‘an effect on, change or benefit to the economy, society, culture, public policy or services, health, the environment or quality of life, beyond academia’.

Impact includes, but is not limited to, an effect on, change or benefit to:

  • the activity, attitude, awareness, behaviour, capacity, opportunity, performance, policy, practice, process or understanding.
  • of an audience, beneficiary, community, constituency, organisation or individuals.
  • in any geographic location whether locally, regionally, nationally or internationally.
  • Impact includes the reduction or prevention of harm, risk, cost or other negative effects.

What goes into a REF ICS?

The ICS should present:

  • The nature, reach and significance of impact that occurred between 1 August 2013 to 31 December 2020.
  • Details of the underpinning research activities and outputs, produced by the submitting unit in the period 1 January 2000 to 31 December 2020.
  • Justification that the underpinning research is of at least 2* quality.
  • Details of how the research activities made a distinct and material contribution to the impact and clear indicators of impact.
  • Evidence to corroborate the claims made.

Where is the official REF Guidance?

The following sources of guidance have been published:

Impact case studies submitted to REF2014

Along with reading the above guidance, one of the best things you can do to understand how REF impact case studies are assessed within your discipline is to read impact case studies from the REF2014 database. It is an excellent resource for gaining an understanding of what the REF panels are looking for in what can be a nuanced area.