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Impact and the REF

Impact was introduced to the Research Excellence Framework (REF) in REF2014. In 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 has been considered a beneficial addition to the REF and will be worth 25% in the REF2021 assessment. Demonstrating the effect of research on the economy and wider society has had many positive uses beyond obtaining quality related (QR) funding.

Latest news

REF2021 paused:

Key headlines:

  • In March 2020 Research Engaland announced a pause to REF2021.
  • There will be a minimum of 8 months to submittion when it restarts.
  • There is no change to staff census date of 31st July 2020.
  • Consultaton on new submission date and whether changes to impact assessment are required closed 6th May.
  • Research England will report back on the consultation in June 2020.

For more information on the REF go to the RS REF webpages.

What is a REF impact case study?

A REF Impact case study (ICS) is a narrative which describes how research, conducted during a specific time-frame at a named institution, resulted in a change, had an effect on or benefited culture, the economy, the environment, health, public policy, quality of life or society using qualitative and quantitative evidence. The impacts must have occurred during the REF census period.

The general criteria used to assess the impact of research in REF2021 will be:

Reach: will be understood as the extent and/or diversity of the beneficiaries of the impact, as relevant to the nature of the impact.
Reach will be assessed in terms of the extent to which the potential constituencies, number or groups of beneficiaries have been reached;
it will not be assessed in purely geographic terms, nor in terms of absolute numbers of beneficiaries. The criteria will be applied wherever the impact occurred, regardless of geography or location, and whether in the UK or abroad

Significance: will be understood as the degree to which the impact has enabled, enriched, influenced, informed or changed the performance, policies, practices, products, services, understanding, awareness or wellbeing of the beneficiaries.

REF2021 Impact case study template and guidance (Annex G)

Impact specific REF2021 impact guidance and assessment criteria are available here.


The 'Guidance on Submissions' and 'Panel Criteria and Working Methods' documents have now been published by Research England.

Impact specific REF2021 impact guidance and assessment criteria are available here.

Below is a brief overview of key information for impact in REF2021:

  • HEFCE have increased the weighting for Impact from 20% to 25%
  • Consistency with REF2014 has been maintained as much as possible
  • Impact is submitted by the institution where the research was undertaken
  • Underpinning research must be at least 2* corobborated by more than 1 output.
  • Underpinning research to have taken place between: 1 January 2000 - 31 December 2020
  • Impact to be demonstrated between: 1 August 2013 - 31 July 2020
  • Submissions will include a minimum of two case studies. Those over 20 FTE will require one additional case study per 15 FTE for the first 110 FTE submitted, then decreasing to one per 50 FTE thereafter. The updated requirements are illustrated in a table below.
  • Further draft guidance will follow in Summer 2018 on reach and significance, and impact from public engagement
  • Case studies to REF2021 that were also submitted to REF2014 will only be considered continued if there has been no new research to underpin the impact and the impact types are broadly the same.
  • Case studies can be based on a broad body of work or research activity rather than be linked to individual outputs
  • Where impact on teaching within the submitting unit’s own institution is included in a case study, sub-panels will give consideration to the following:
  •      the reach of the impact, that is the extent or diversity of the communities affected by the change to teaching practice
  •      the significance of the impact, that is, the extent to which teaching practice was enriched, influenced or changed at the organisation(s) involved and/or the extent to which individuals experiencing changed teaching practice were enriched, influenced or changed.
  • Audit evidence of impact to be submitted by January 2021.

Impact case studies required per FTE for REF2021

Examples of REF2014 impact case studies

Research England has created a searchable database of all non-confidential impact case studies submitted to REF2014. You can search for case studies by institution or by a keyword search on the REF2014 website.

The University of Sheffield's REF2014 Impact Case Studies

The University has collated the highest scoring impact case studies from each Unit of Assessment - read them on Google Drive.

King's College London and Digital Science published an analysis of all the different impacts described in REF2014, entitled The nature, scale and beneficiaries of research impact.

Researchers often ask what to track and how to go about it. HEFCE commissioned Vertigo Venture and Digital Science to create a best practice guidance on Collecting Research Evidence and Impact from analysing REF ICS and a workshop with REF2014 panel members.

REF2021 impact types and indicators
Impact on understanding, learning & participation Impact on creativity, culture and society Impact on social welfare
Impact on commerce & economy Impact on public policy, law & services Impacts on health, wellbeing & animal welfare
Impact on production Impact on the environment Impact on practitioners & professional services
REF Blog

Keep up to date with any new information by reading the University REF blog.


Who to contact

If you have any queries about the above, then please contact your departmental impact lead or the Impact and IP Team within Research Services.

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