Monitoring and evaluation

Timely new report on research impact gives guidance to institutions and funders

By 10/06/2013

Ahead of this year’s Research Excellence Framework (REF) a team from the University of Exeter DESCRIBE project ,funded by JISC, have authored a report which gives guidance on the definition,evidence and structures required to capture research impacts and benefits.


Key recommendations for research funders include a warning to keep expectations for data capture under review to ensure that the compliance burden for HEIs is reasonable and manageable and is proportionate to the benefits of collecting the information, and that they should retain an open definition of impact that incorporates all stages of the impact journey to ensure that a full range of impacts are considered. Attempts to over specify and define low-level categories of impact should be resisted over the short to medium-term.


General observations include that there is no one-size fits all approach to assessing and evidencing impact which meets with universal approval, particularly at an international level; that systems-based approaches to considering the wider influences of research, and indeed HEIs per se, are evolving and promise wider benefits for the sector; requirements for evidencing impact need to be proportionate to the size of the research budget and the benefits of capturing the information and finally, that there is an opportunity to employ data harvesting tools and embed IT systems to routinely capture information and evidence of research impact.

David Sweeney, Director (Research, Innovation and Skills) HEFCE said: “The report provides a solid account of where we are with impact to date. We are committed to continuing our work at HEFCE with the sector on better understanding and capturing the impacts from research. This report firmly sets the stage for this work as we move beyond REF 2014”.

The report’s findings are based on a literature review; semi-structured interviews; an expert workshop; a series of detailed, thematic “think pieces” from experts and commentators within the UK and internationally; and a final international project conference.

The Future of Impact

Professor Geoff Rodgers, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research, Brunel University, and Chair of the DESCRIBE Steering Group: “It is vitally important that the academy takes ownership of the impact concept, subverts it, and reshapes it as a construct understood by the whole community. This will help provide a positive narrative around high quality research, which will allow us to communicate the benefits of our research to a wide range of stakeholders. This report is an important step in that process.”

Rachel Bruce, Innovation Director Digital Infrastructure, JISC, added: “It seems clear that universities will improve their capacity to manage and demonstrate the impact of their research in the coming years.  This report, along with related JISC work on embedding impact analysis, offers a sound evidence base on which to build.”

Professor Nick Talbot, DVC for Research and Knowledge Transfer, University of Exeter concluded:”The DESCRIBE report is a timely reminder of how important it is to demonstrate the Impact of University research to the wide array of stakeholders with whom we work. At Exeter we are absolutely committed to making a difference to society, culture and the economy through our research.”

All the project outputs can be found on the DESCRIBE website:

Title: DESCRIBE Project Final Report Author: University of Exeter Year: 2013