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Impact and the REF

Impact was introduced to the Research Excellence Framework (REF) as a means to assess the effect on, change or benefit from research beyond academia. Impact has been considered a beneficial addition to the REF and will be part of the REF2021 assessment. Demonstrating the effect of research on the economy and wider society has had many positive uses beyond obtaining QR funding.

What is a REF impact case study?

A REF Impact case study 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. Only impacts that occurred during the REF consensus period are assessed.

The general criteria used to assess the impact of research in REF2014 was:

Reach: the spread or breadth of influence or effect on the relevant constituencies. Reach will not be assessed in purely geographic terms, nor in terms of absolute numbers of beneficiaries, but rather based on the spread or breadth to which the potential constituencies have been affected.

Significance: the intensity of the influence or effect.

Panel specific REF2014 Impact assessment criteria are below:

Panel A Panel B Panel C Panel D

Examples of REF impact case studies:

HEFCE has created a searchable database of all non-confidential impact case studies submitted to REF2014. You can search for case studies from any institution or containing any word(s) here.

We have collected the highest scoring impact case studies from each Unit of Assessment. Read them here

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

What should you track and how to go about it are common questions from researchers. HEFCE commissioned Vertigo Venture and Digital Science to create a best practice guidance on Collecting Research Evidence Impact from analysing REF ICS and a workshop with REF2014 panel members. Read the guidance here.


In September 2017 HEFCE published initial decisions on REF2021. These high-level decisions are intended to provide clarity on the broad framework for the exercise, with the detailed guidance to follow in draft form during Autumn 2018.

Below is a brief overview of the initial decisions for impact in REF2021:

  • HEFCE have increased the weighting for Impact from 20% to 25%.
  • Consistency with REF2014 will be maintained as much as possible
  • Impact is submitted by the institution where the research was undertaken
  • Underpinning research must be at least 2*
  • Underpinning research to have taken place between: 1 Jan 2000 - 31 Dec 2020
  • Impact to be demonstrated between: 1 Aug 2013 - 31 Jul 2020
  • Further draft guidance will follow in Autumn 2018 on Reach and Significance and Impact from public engagement
  • Number of case studies to be submitted - not known yet, likely to be similar total number from the sector to last time, but tariff is still being developed.
  • Case studies from REF2014 can be submitted if showing continued impact from August 2013 to July 2020 - will need to be identified and evidence 'additionality'.
  • Case studies can be based on a broad body of work or research activity rather than be linked to individual outputs
  • Impacts on teaching within the submitting institution can be included
  • Audit evidence of impact to be submitted at the same time as Impact Case Studies (though not provided routinely to sub-panels)
  • Impact template to be moved to Environment element.
  • Institutional level impact case studies - not a part of REF2021 but pilot in 2018
REF Blog

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