REF impact FAQs
FAQs relating to the impact component of REF2021.
What does 'impact' mean in the context of the REF?
Impact is described by the REF team 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" (GoS 297). Impact may come about in different ways (see below), but importantly does not include the advancement of academic knowledge, which is evaluated through the other components of the REF. Impacts on students and teaching are within scope, but it is suggested that impact on teaching within the submitting institution may be best submitted as part of a case study also describing impact beyond the submitting institution (GoS 300; PCWM 302).
As listed in GoS 298-299, impact inlcudes, 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.
And, impact includes the reduction or prevention of harm, risk, cost or other negative effects.
For further details, please see GoS Annex C.
I have a strong impact case study which was also submitted to REF2014 - can I put it forward for REF2021?
Yes. Provided the underpinning research is within the defined period (2000-2020) and the impact has occurred in the relevant time period (01 Aug 2013 - 31 December 2020), you will be able to submit an impact case study relating to impact returned to REF2014. The panels encourage submission of the strongest impact case studies, whether representing new or continuing impact (GoS 314; PCWM 292-293; 295). If submitted, continuing impact case studies must be identified as such, for post-assessment evaluations (GoS 315-316).
What is the research quality threshold for impact case studies?
Impact must be underpinned by 'excellent research', which means the work referenced in the case study must be of at least two star quality (see the output assessment criteria for definition) (GoS 319.b). Note that the quality threshold applies to the underpinning research as a whole. Each referenced item is not required to meet the two star criteria, provided the research as a whole is demonstrably at two star level or above (PCWM 313).
For panel B, each case study should include reference to any REF-able output(s) that enable the sub-panel to determine the quality threshold is met. Additionally, other indicators of the quality of the research should be included (PCWM 319).
Provided the quality threshold is met, the quality of underpinning research will not be used to evaluate the reach and significance of the claimed impact (PCWM 316).
Can any type of output be a key reference for my impact case study?
Yes. Each case study should include up to six key references, and these may be of any output type (e.g. journal articles may be cited alongside a technical report or a patent)(PCWM 313-314).
I have submitted an output for assessment which is also part of the underpinning research for an impact case study - is this ok?
Yes. The assessment of the relevant case study will not inform the assessment of the relevant output(s). The assessment of the output(s) will only inform the case study in so much that it assures that the underpinning research is of the required two star quality (PCWM 316).
Can a case study describe more than one type of impact?
Yes. The REF team acknowledges that a single body of research may underpin more than one type of impact, and a case study can be written accordingly (PCWM 298).
I have a case study which I am confident will lead to significant impact shortly - can this be submitted?
Only the impact achieved during the assessment period (01 August 2013 - 31 December 2020) will be assessed by the REF panel, and no anticipated or potential impact will be taken into account (PCWM 291).
If you have no evidence of impact within the assessment period, the case is unlikely to be submitted for REF2021 - but do let Victoria and Peter know and keep a note of it for the next REF.
My research has had significant impact outside of the UK, but not nationally - is it eligible for submission to REF?
Yes. The international contribution of UK research is valued equally to impact in the UK (GoS 301).