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Jane Winn, REF Policy manager at St. Andrews University and independent impact consultant (@jane-winn) was a speaker at our recent conference session on impact case studies and the REF. Here she writes about her experiences relating to the development of impact case studies:

I have worked in University ‘REF teams’ for the RAE 2008 and REF2014 submissions, leading on the impact case studies at the University of Strathclyde from 2010 – 2015. Things I have learned about the ‘higher level’ organization include, in no particular order:

1. The importance of teamwork: A REF impact case study should be a shared effort, in terms of both ownership and workload. Do not give a researcher the REF rules and ask them to go away and write a case study without institutional support – but beware of over-reviewing and giving contradictory advice to authors.

2. Leadership and oversight: Set up an impact coordinator or leader in each Department to have oversight of the impact element of the REF submission – and preferably impact more generally. Make sure these impact coordinators get the chance to meet each other, and get regular information updates.

3. Incentives: The obvious ones which Universities can provide are

  • Time (impact leave or other reductions in admin or teaching)
  • Funding (provide some level of internal funding to pump prime impact projects)
  • Career progression (include impact in criteria for academic promotion).

4. Benchmarking: All HEIs should now know what three and four star REF case studies look like. There is a searchable database of all the impact case studies on the REF2014 website, and the key word search is very useful. Read a selection and you can soon tell which narratives are well written and have high levels of impact.

5. Evidence: Whatever the rules will be next time, researchers should collect the evidence for the key claims of impact occurring since 2014. If you have a central system to collect draft impact case studies, and supporting evidence, this will make the eventual collection of case studies for the next REF less burdensome.

6. Unrealistic Expectations: Do not give your researchers the impression that they must all work with multinational companies to produce huge worldwide sales, or tell them to bin their impact case study if they cannot change United Nations policy. Remember that projects aimed at relatively small targeted audiences or populations can still achieve high levels of impact and score at three and four star level.