Research Impact Network Event April 2015 – ‘The Aftermath’

A big thank you to those of you who attended the recent Research Impact Network Event on 30th April at the University of Warwick.

We’re busy getting to grips with the mountains of post-it notes, flipcharts and focus group notes that emerged from the event and we will be crafting them into a report of the day, building on our research project: “After the REF: Research Impact Support in Universities” for which the presentation given by Becky Steliaros and Sarah Gilmore is available here

Role of UK HEI Impact Officer Presentation 30.04.15

Social media captured on the day are also available to view via Storify and Topsy.

Keynote Presentations:


Dr Saba Hinrichs, of the King’s College Policy Institute, gave an overview of the recent report ‘The nature, scale and beneficiaries of research impact’ and offered some really useful advice for navigating the wealth of data available in the REF Impact Case Study database.

Saba Hinrichs presentation


Professor John Scott provided us with some excellent, clear advice based on his extensive experience of the REF Impact Case Studies, as both a PVC for Research within an institution and as the Chair of a REF 2014 sub-panel. His presentation slides are available below.

Presentation of Impact Cases Preparation and Assessment

More information and presentations will be available shortly.

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What next for Impact? Update on Research Impact Network event 30th April.

(This article first appeared in the 1st issue of ARMA’s new publication ‘The Protagonist’.  With huge thanks to members of the Research Impact Network Co-ordination Group who read, commented and suggested edits to this article).

The ‘E’s of Impact


The publication of the REF2014 results generated an almost frenetic discussion about how well Institutions performed on ‘Impact’, with many HEI’s celebrating their success. Now that HEFCE have published the case studies, all eyes will be on those institutions that performed particularly well to see whether we can discern what constitutes world-leading impact. Where does that leave those of us tasked with supporting research and impact? Our work has changed, and we have adapted so far – but we will need to continue to do so in this dynamic field over the next few years.

By the time we reach REF2020, our best guess is that the impact weighting is likely to increase to at least 25%, but even if the format and the process stays largely the same we will no longer be approaching impact as a retrospective exercise.

Beyond the REF, RCUK have reaffirmed their commitment to the Pathways to Impact document as a condition of funding. From 1st April this year, grant applications must be accompanied by an acceptable ‘Pathways to Impact’ document (although what counts as ‘acceptable’ is less clear). Impact statements are already required for Horizon 2020 proposals. Not only is impact here to stay, but it is no longer optional. All of this underpins broader debates within the Academy and beyond about the value and benefits of academic research to society and the economy.

The stakes are high and we cannot afford to bask in the glory of REF2014 for too long (if we ever could). The Research Impact Network[i] has already sought to stimulate conversation amongst our professional community about where we go from here. At our inaugural event in February 2014, we identified three C’s; Creating a culture for Impact; Capturing Impact and Communicating Impact. These still provide a good broad framework, although we could now segue into five ‘E’s: Engagement; Evidence; Evaluation; Economies of Scale and Ecosystem.

Engaging end-users with academic research is clearly something that already happens successfully– the 6,975 case studies submitted to REF2014 underline this point. This engagement is also something that we can improve; by nurturing mutually beneficial partnerships between academics and publics; supporting translational activities to bridge gaps in understanding and through the embedding of engagement throughout the research lifecycle from the design stage and beyond.

The relationship between engagement and impact warrants further debate, as there is real risk that certain types of impact might be prioritised if they are easier to realise within short timescales (before the next REF submission). This could disadvantage research where the potential impacts are more long-term and conceptual or challenging to bring about such as policy impacts in areas that are difficult to infiltrate.) Will research in the Arts and Humanities be at a disadvantage if many of their impacts are based on public engagement? The audience in a workshop led by the Research Impact Network at the NCCPE’s Engage Conference concluded that the REF had been a positive force for raising the profile of public engagement in Universities. Understanding the demonstrable contribution of public engagement to the impact agenda is a vital part of part of ensuring that public engagement does not become side-lined in favour of other types of impact.

And, so how can we evidence these contributions? Technology can only help us so far. Databases will only ever be as useful as the information we put into them. This article is not the place to get into a discussion on metrics but we all know that the HEFCE review report which will appear later on this year will fuel further debate about the types of indicators or evidence that are considered robust demonstrators of impact.

Evidence on its own is insufficient – it needs to be contextualized and evaluated. This requires an understanding of the types of impact which are most highly valued within a particular field or discipline, but it also relates to how analytical tools and techniques can help us demonstrate impact in each of these dimensions. Could ‘big-data’, for example, help or hinder us with this challenge?

‘Economies of scale’ through interdisciplinary or multi-institutional research projects may help extend the reach and significance of impact based on evidence and innovations from multiple sources of research. The current REF reporting format doesn’t necessarily allow for this to be demonstrated easily with its requirement that case studies are submitted by institution and by Unit of Assessment. HEFCE’s intention to commission work with RCUK to examine this issue[ii] is a welcome opportunity.

Much of the above could be understood within the context of an impact ‘eco-system’. This was suggested in the Research Impact Network’s February 2014 report, and refers to the interconnectedness and interdependencies, within our institutions and beyond, that contribute to creating the conditions for impact and demonstrating that we have been successful.

The Research Impact Network will be discussing all of these points (and more) at its next event in April 2015. We are also beginning to explore the characteristics of professional roles that have emerged and evolved to support impact across the sector. Some commentators have urged caution against the creation of an ‘impact industry’ however, it is likely that research managers or impact officers are likely to have the unenviable but pivotal role of co-ordinating the 5 ‘E’s to ensure that institutions are making the most of their opportunity to demonstrate impact.


Members of our network have kindly volunteered their expertise to run parallel sessions at our event on 30th April. Topics include:
– Coaching Researchers to deliver impact
– Overcoming Issues in Case Study Generation
– Designing Support for Impact throughout the Academic Career
– Thinking creatively about how to repurpose impact case studies for other audiences
– The Extent of Institutional Impact Change
– Navigating Peer Review Processes for the Assessment of Impact

Workshop choices will be circulated to delegates shortly to sign up in advance of the event.



Research Impact Network Event – **NOW OPEN FOR REGISTRATIONS**


Research Impact Network Event 2015: Beyond the REF

Thursday 30th April 2015, 09.30-16.30 Scarman Conference Centre, University of Warwick

Our focal point this year will be ‘What can we learn from the REF results about world-leading impact, and how can we support it?’

We are delighted to announce that we have 2 keynote speakers; Dr Steven Hill, Head of Research Policy at HEFCE and Professor John Scott, formerly Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Research) at University of Plymouth and Chair of the Sociology Sub-Panel for REF 2014.

We will also provide an update on some work that we are doing around ‘Research Impact Support in UK Universities’; a project which is looking at how the Impact Officer role (or equivalent) in Universities is changing post REF.

For further information, and to book your place, please go to:

Expressions of Interest for Workshops

Thank you to everyone who has so far contacted us about potentially running a session at the event. Some really excellent suggestions so far! If you haven’t yet contact us, and would be interested in doing something, could you send a brief e-mail, outlining your idea for a session so that it reaches no later than Thursday 12th March 2015.

SAVE THE DATE! Research Impact Network Event will take place on Thursday 30th April 2015

Research Impact Network

The Research Impact Network has some exciting news will shortly be opening for registrations for this year’s Research Impact Network event, which will be taking place once again at the University of Warwick on Thursday 30th April.

Our focal point this year will be what we can learn from the REF results about what world-leading impact looks like and what that means for those of us tasked with supporting it. We are delighted to announce that we have two keynote speakers; Dr Steven Hill, Head of Research Policy at HEFCE and Professor John Scott, formerly Pro-Vice Chancellor (Research) at University of Plymouth and Chair of the Sociology Sub-Panel for REF 2014.

We will provide an update on some work that we are doing around ‘Research Impact Support in UK Universities’ – a project which is looking at how the role of ‘Impact Officer’ or equivalent in Universities is changing.  We will have more news on this project shortly!

This event is also a platform for you to run your own sessions, based on issues which are pertinent to you….essentially we provide you with the room, resources and catering – you provide the topic!  If you’re interested in running a session please do get in touch with us as soon as possible by sending an e-mail to

Conference 2015 and Other Plans for the Network

sunshine Autumn has arrived with a vengeance! I hope you all enjoyed the summer and managed to enjoy some ‘impact-free’ time. The evenings are getting darker (and REF results are looming) but the Research Impact Network hopes to be able to brighten up some of your days over the next year.

The Research Impact Network Organizing Committee met for the first time this academic year a week or so ago, and I’m delighted to say that we have a programme of work planned for 2014/15 with potential for network members to get involved.

We’re hoping to hold another Research Impact Network conference towards the end of March 2015, which will provide another opportunity for the network to discuss key issues facing the sector and to share emerging good practice.

We’re also looking to undertake some research into how our post-REF impact roles have evolved/are evolving.  Our findings from this work will be shared at our next event in March.

We hope to develop our online presence too, and to give you as members of an emerging professional community of interest an opportunity to share your thoughts and experiences about how your roles and responsibilities are evolving and your take on developments in the sector in the dynamic landscape of the ‘Impact Agenda’.

And finally, but most importantly, we would love to hear your views on what else you’d like to do with the Network. We really would like this to be something which exists for the benefits of those who participate in the Network – if there is demand from the sector for future events and activities then we will endeavour to find the resources to organize them……it’s over to you!

REF Case Study Survey

2014-05-19 REF Case Study Survey Final_1

In response to an email to the ARMA Research Impact Special Interest group, there was a desire within the community to find out how the REF 2014 case studies were to be used by Universities.

The results of a survey designed to address this question can be found in the summary report.

This resonates with one of the Research Impact Network’s current themes around ‘Communicating Impact’ and provides lots of food for thought in terms of how the sector is taking this forward.

If you have any comments or feedback, please get contact the report’s author, Anthony Atkin at the University of Reading:

2014-05-19 REF Case Study Survey Final

Summary Analysis of the Research Impact Network Event: Part 2 and Full Report

The second part of the summary analysis is about looking to the future.  During our event in February we focussed on 3 pertinent themes:

  • Culture Change and Embedding Impact
  • Capturing Impact
  • Communicating Impact

Whilst we’ve adopted these themes to organize our conclusions, they are not mutually exclusive concepts – in fact they are interlinked. In order to capture information about research impact, we need to promote a culture which rewards and recognises it as central to the mission of Universities and embeds systems and processes to facilitate and record examples of impact.  Communicating impact in engaging ways will promote a sense of how research has managed to achieve impact, and provide us with information about typologies and pathways to feed into our processes and systems for capturing impact.

The summary outcomes are organised into the following areas:

  • What does the ‘ideal’ look like, and what is stopping us from getting there?
  • What would we like to see put in place (by funders/our institutions)
  • What can we do (as individuals?)
  • What can we do (collectively?)

The approach that we’re taking is pragmatic; focussing on some of the practical steps that we can take to improve our own practices. Whilst we suggest below what the ‘ideal’ looks like, it is there as a prompt to start the discussion, to identify what might be getting in the way and to think about the initial steps that we might take towards removing or working around barriers.

We hope that this will form the basis for future work for the Research Impact Network, in the form of future conferences, research projects, publications or good practice guides.  These topics are not exhaustive though.

In the meantime – the full report can be downloaded by clicking on the link below, and your feedback and comments would be very welcome.

Research Impact Network Event – Analysis and Outcomes


  Culture Change: Embedding Impact


Capturing Impact Communicating Impact
What does the ‘ideal’ look like? Clear and unequivocal notion of ‘impact’ which is not just about REF.

Academic colleagues understand what constitutes ‘impact’.

Senior managers provide leadership and infrastructure.

Engagement and enthusiasm is engendered within a broader base of the academic community.

All stakeholders understand the value of impact

Practical tool to support, rather than drive impact capture

Coherence/common set of indicators

Stability over time to develop enduring systems/processes

Institutions can articulate the broader benefits of research in ways which are appropriate to different audiences.

A ‘virtuous circle’ of activity where impact case studies are beneficial to other areas of the University and can be used to attract future funding.

What is stopping us from getting there? Impact is perceived negatively and narrowly in terms of the REF reporting requirements.

Impact is no longer a strategic priority now that institutions have completed their submissions for REF 2014.

Lack-of-co-ordination. Too many different systems/processes.

Potential for impact not necessarily identifiable as a project/publication.

Technological solutions not keeping up with requirements for impact.

Technological solution requires commitment and understanding in order to use it appropriately.

Resources and skills needed to be able to craft impact case studies effectively. We are yet to discover what a ‘good’ REF Impact Case study looks like.
What would we like to see put in place by our institutions/funders? Appropriate reward and recognition.

Case studies are used in numerous ways including marketing and recruitment.

Institutions have coherent impact strategies which involve colleagues (academic and other professionals) across the institution.

HEFCE/Research Councils use impact case studies to promote the broader benefits of research.

Early communication and consultation with regard to impact reporting requirements.

Coherence around the nature of ‘impact’ between HEFCE and Research Councils.

Leadership and support for implementing systems and processes to capture impact.

Bring together communications professionals with research offices and academic colleagues to work on impact case studies.

HEFCE/Research Councils use impact case studies to promote the broader benefits of research.

What can we do within our own institutions? Promote ‘impact awards’.   Either establish competitions within our own institutions or encourage applications to national competitions such as those organised by ESRC or PraxisUnico.

Work with Impact Champions as a catalytic group to promote engagement/impact.

Finding creative solutions (e.g. media students working on impact case studies).

Influencing upwards and being the drivers for change.

Increase knowledge of social media, search-engine optimisation and altmetrics.

Educate colleagues in the use of impact capture systems.

Collect material for case studies on a more routine basis (not just for the REF). Develop relationships with editors of online publications such as ‘The Conversation UK’.

Involve beneficiaries and end users of the research in case studies.

Showcase research impact stories via a range of media, including websites and brochures.

What can we do collectively? (As the Research Impact Network) 1) Future conferences will create opportunities for sharing good practice and developing general principles or approaches.

2) Become a collective voice for working with HEFCE and the Research Councils.

3) Conduct research and be a central repository for information about research impact.

4) Engage external ‘users’ or beneficiaries in our events.

1) Share information about good practice/approaches to capturing impact related information.  This could include a conference, research project and a ‘good-practice’ publication.

2) Work with providers/developers of CRIS: develop a comprehensive set of requirements.

1) Event to explore creative ways of communicating research impact (including writers, documentary makers, artists, animators).

2) Good practice guide identifying key elements of good case studies.


Our summary outcomes table has also been on tour to the ARMA Annual Conference in Blackpool and the PraxisUnico Conference in Cardiff, and has attracted considerable interest from delegates at both events.

Summary Analysis of the Research Impact Network Event

Research Impact Network Event – Summary Analysis Part 1

This is our summary analysis of the inaugural Research Impact Network event, which took place at the University of Warwick on 26th February 2014.

The event was a valuable opportunity for reflection on experiences of supporting, co-ordinating or managing REF impact case studies and to identify key learning points to take forward to the next REF or any future impact reporting requirements. It also provided an opportunity to network with colleagues in similar roles in other HEIs and share experiences. I think some of us benefited from this therapeutic approach.

The inaugural Research Impact Network event generated a huge amount of discussion and captured a wealth of experience.

The inaugural Research Impact Network event generated a huge amount of discussion and captured a wealth of experience.

During the event, a huge amount of discussion was generated, and apologies that we haven’t been able to publish anything before now. We wanted to ensure that we did justice to the excellent contributions of all those who attended, and it has taken some time to make sense of all the material and shape it into a form which we can do something with, laying foundations for future activities and events and creating a provisional framework of resources for the future. For the last few months (in addition to all of the stuff that I do as part of my job) I have been treading water amidst a sea of flip chart paper and post-it notes, and this is what I’ve come up with so far.

Telling the story of REF through objects 1: from a crochet hook to a bolt gun.

Telling the story of REF through objects 1: from a crochet hook to a bolt gun.

Telling the story of REF through objects 2: chaos theory to Strictly Come Impact (how would Len score us.....obviously not with his customary 'seven!')

Telling the story of REF through objects 2: chaos theory to Strictly Come Impact (how would Len score us…..obviously not with his customary ‘seven!’)

This is the first of two reports which will be based on the following themes:

1) Where have we been and where are we now – our REF experiences and the challenges that we face?

2) Where do we need to go from here: The Future/The Manifesto and suggestions for future events and activities.

This report is on the first of these topics. The full version is available here: Research Impact Network Event – Analysis and Outcomes

For the sake of brevity and clarity, the discussion responses have been ‘themed’ into different areas of activity.  There are numerous ways to cut this, but by and large we wanted to create some coherent topics around the types of challenges that our particular community faces. (Inevitably there may be some overlap, or possibly even repetition). These could potentially form the basis for future, more detailed discussions around each of these topics or alternatively form the basis for an action plan for engaging with others within our ‘impact eco-system’ (of which, more anon).

Some of our challenges: the tip of the iceberg.......

Some of our challenges: the tip of the iceberg…….

Even more challenges.....

Even more challenges…..

Yet further challenges......

Yet further challenges……


Our first session involved us all talking about the objects that we had brought to reflect our own experiences of working with research impact in the context of the REF.  Although possibly a slightly new type of concept for some, it had the benefit of bringing to the fore some of the emotionally laden, frustrating, infuriating or otherwise aspects of the REF in a graphic and often humorous way, enabling us to tap into elements of the experience which are often closed off to ‘colder’ discussions focussing purely on process and procedure. This is not just ‘touchy-feely’ stuff, it can illuminate, for institutions and funders, the things that frustrate us the most and often require disproportionate amounts of brain-power and energy to deal with.  If, collectively, we can begin to have a dialogue and work together on some of these issues, we could potentially work towards helping each other to achieve our goals.

We return to the practical and emotional challenges later

What links badgers, magnifying glasses, tape measures, clothes pegs.......

What links badgers, magnifying glasses, tape measures, clothes pegs…….

.....shoe polish, battenberg, a duck, a bolt gun, a crochet hook and another clothes peg....?

…..shoe polish, battenberg, a duck, a bolt gun, a crochet hook and another clothes peg….?

A: they all symbolise our perceptions of the REF Impact ‘experience’.

So, what are the challenges we face?

a) The business of ‘doing’ impact

Definitions and understanding impact

The potential for variable interpretations has its advantages in enabling us to be flexible about what counts as ‘impact’ (of the non-academic variety). Yet at the same time the variations of impact requirements for different funders and stakeholders creates confusion and a lack of coherence within our own institutions about what impact is and what we should be looking for or supporting. Our view is that stakeholders and funders might be able to work together more closely on this in the future, with a view to converging or helping us to find a form of language which conveys a clearer, more consistent definition of ‘impact’.

Identifying impact

Our challenges at institutional level involve selectivity about which projects or research activities we can support.  We simply don’t have the resources to track and support everything, but we would probably want a big enough sample of work to draw on the next time it comes to drafting impact case studies. A major challenge for Research Managers is the way in which we keep track of research and its impact. We were very much at the mercy of institutional memory to support the gathering of information about underpinning research.  If case studies feature as the main mode of reporting for the next REF exercise, the expectations might be so much higher given that we now know a bit about what is expected. How do research managers and academics keep appropriate records of their research and of their impact? What do ‘good’ case studies look like?

Crafting and constructing

We have to understand the original (‘underpinning’) research and how this relates to the subsequent impact (particularly where impact was more conceptual than just producing ‘widgets’ or return on investment), creating a coherent narrative in a form which is accessible to a general audience.  The two challenges which were mentioned time and time again were around evidence gathering and storytelling.

Processual Issues (as in understanding the process of impact, and the implications that this has for the way we work).

  • Understanding and education colleagues about some of the more technical aspects of impact: attribution, time-lag, duration, deadweight, displacement etc. and the implications that each of these have for tracking research and recording impact.
  • Supporting engagement with research, whilst appreciating that it does not constitute ‘impact’
  • Ensuring that researchers who were not involved with the REF impact case studies for the 2014 exercise understand how to establish an audit trail for the future
  • Linking relevant research outputs (as indicators of the quality of the underpinning research) to particular instances of impact; understanding the quality thresholds and appreciating that research quality and impactful research are not necessarily mutually exclusive.
  • ‘Monitoring’ (or tracking if you prefer) impact: gathering and storing evidence in its many varied forms
  • Maintaining productive relationships with external collaborators (‘users’) to provide testimonials as evidence of research impact
  • Understanding the ‘endpoint’: when to stop looking for relevant evidence.

The theme running through all of this is ownership. Where does this sit; with academic colleagues, with departments or with the central university administration? There is a need for robust, integrated approaches to managing these tasks within our institutions.  Roles and responsibilities need to be clear from the outset and there needs to be effective co-ordination between university departments, between central university administrators and faculties and between administrators and academics.

b) Practical and Emotional Challenges

We should also recognise the emotional investment that we and other colleagues in our institutions which is inevitably associated with the time and effort required for the task. It was often highly frustrating, for example when colleagues did not read guidance and whose contributions were therefore ineligible for inclusion. Some of us experienced it as a very inefficient process, with potential for too much wasted effort. We often had to deal with very stressful situations, providing reassurance and support during anxious times. The Impact Template (3A) was often met with much vexation and exasperation as there is no clear sense of what a good one looks like.

c) The Impact ‘Ecosystem’


Embedding impact is primarily about introducing the right structures and processes now, providing good support for academic colleagues who want to engage with the impact agenda and developing greater awareness and ‘impact literacy’ for others. Crucially, it may be that impact does not sit within one particular department in the institution, and it is likely to bring together multiple functions including marketing, communication, knowledge transfer, business development, training etc.  Whilst responsibilities and activities are likely to be distributed across the institution, some central co-ordination and management is essential to ensure that a coherent strategy is being implemented across the institution. Culture change is more about finding ways to work with academic colleagues in order to maximise impact and gaining their buy-in, both practically and ideologically.Culture change is a longer term project, admittedly, but one which needs to be kick-started now in terms of embedding relevant support structures within our institutions for engagement and impact.

Institutional Support/Constraints

Our institutional structures were obviously not designed with the REF impact case studies, or with Research Impact in mind. Whilst some put in place support specifically for the REF submission exercise, and others are continuing to provide infrastructure and support to impact and engagement activities, it was clear that organisational structures and ways of working could either enable or frustrate (mainly frustrate, actually) support for engagement and impact.

Therefore each institution’s senior management needs to maintain momentum by introducing impact strategies and practical measures such as systems/processes for capturing impact (with a note of caution that a push to operationalize before a well-formed strategy is in place will be potentially damaging, confusing and inefficient). Resourcing (including time and workload allocation) needs to be sufficient to enable support structures and methods for capturing impact to be established.

Just recognising that impact is something which needs to be done, and putting in place adequate support for it might not be enough. Institutions also need to be thinking about how to incentivise, recognise and reward efforts in support of public engagement and impact, and ensure buy-in by academic colleagues (introducing ‘impact champions’ for example).

Relationship Management

With good strategies and support structures, research managers should be in a good position to play a pivotal role in preparing institutions for the future demands of the impact agenda. Making this happen; bringing about organisational or culture change, will inevitably require the skillful management of relationships across different areas of the institution.

Relationship management isn’t just confined to the way we work with academic colleagues.  It is also fundamental to building productive relationships with our external partners, whether they are (potential) collaborators, funders or audiences for the research.

Coming up in part 2: The next part of the report focuses on how we can turn these challenges into practical actions, and what the Research Impact Network can do to help.

The full version of part 1 of the report can be downloaded here: Research Impact Network Event – Analysis and Outcomes

Forthcoming Event 21st March 2014: Influencing Policy for Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences Researchers

Details of an event which might be of interest to you:

The Vitae funded Social Sciences Humanities and Arts Researcher Education (SHARE), event, which will take place on 21 March in Oxford will focus on maximising the uptake- and thereby the impact- of arts, humanities and social science research in policy.

The provisional programme is available at:

You can register for this event at the following link