Impact Practitioners

Seven lessons about impact case studies from REF 2021

By 06/06/2024

This blog post written by Dr Philly Iglehart details seven key takeaways about impact case studies, drawing on Plymouth Marjon University’s experience of preparing impact case studies for the 2021 Research Excellence Framework (REF 2021). These recommendations are mostly targeted at researchers and higher education institutions in the UK who are submitting REF Impact Case Studies, and who want to improve their REF rating and maximise the positive impact of their research .

The first lesson is to consider and plan for research impact. Embedding impact into the research process from the outset and focusing on delivering good outcomes is actually more conducive to improvement. Some ways to do this include planning for impact, and brokering long-term relationships beyond academia.

Secondly, it’s important to differentiate between ‘pathways to impact’ and ‘impact’. ‘Research impact’ refers to the demonstrable good that research does in the world. ‘Pathways to impact’ are the ways in which the research becomes available and applied beyond academia. 

The third recommendation is to determine potential research users and beneficiaries early. This will help potential beneficiaries better understand how your research can make a positive impact for them or their organisation.

The fourth takeaway is to develop mutually beneficial, long-term relationships with research users. Some simple ways to do this include requesting feedback on the outcomes of implementation, and keeping in touch regularly. Additionally, this is most beneficial when users are involved in all stages of research as it will facilitate collaborative reflection. 

The fifth lesson of planning for impact is to plan tangible ways to mobilise research into action. Researchers should find viable and realistic ways to disseminate their research and then help users to implement it effectively.

The sixth key takeaway is to track progress of implementation of research. Since impact is not always easily identified, it is important to evaluate all the outcomes of the research as it is disseminated and implemented. This will also make it easier to identify and anticipate  obstacles, and assess the positive and negative impacts. 

Finally, researchers should prioritise gathering and recording evidence of impact, and do so throughout the project. This will make things easier when it comes to communicating what the impacts are and why they are important. In sum, early planning, tracking, assessing and communicating of research impact enables it to have more desirable outcomes. 

Overall, these lessons are useful for UK higher education practitioners, regarding thinking about planning for impact from the outset, and maximising the good that research can do.

This article is part of our initiative, R2A Impact Practitioners. To find out more, please click here.