Research Excellence Framework 2021

Impact case study database

Avoiding extinction: conservation initiatives to save a critically endangered giant freshwater fish in india.

  • Fisheries Sciences

1. Summary of the impact

2. underpinning research, 3. references to the research, 4. details of the impact, 5. sources to corroborate the impact, additional contextual information.

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Please note that a handful of cases linked below fell between the 3* and 4* boundary.  

The guidance around REF impact remained largely unchanged between REF2021 and REF2014. Therefore, it can also be useful to look back at 4* impact case studies from the earlier exercise. Examples of REF2014 4* impact case studies can be found here .

Related links

  • REF2014 searchable database of case studies
  • REF2021 searchable database of case studies

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Stephen Kemp

funding + impact

REF2021: 4* impact case studies

We all know there’s more to impact than REF impact case studies. However, they represent a lot of hard work and the new REF2021 database  of 6,781 impact case studies is so big and wide-ranging that it’s a major resource for anyone interested in research impact. A look at these impact case studies can help academics and research managers understand what impact may look like in a particular area, plan and articulate impact, scope relevant stakeholders and engagement strategies, and consider what evidence and indicators might be relevant when describing different kinds of impact.

The database can be searched and filtered in a number of ways but (beyond sitting with a spreadsheet of REF results) there is no easy way to pick out the highest scoring examples. That’s why many REF and impact managers in universities across the UK will be making lists of 4* impact case studies from REF2021. Here’s mine – click on the UoA of interest below and you’ll uncover links to the (publicly available) 4* impact case studies in that area. These are case studies that are unambiguously identifiable as scoring 4* – there are many other 4* examples but they are buried in submissions.

Of course, it is highly reductionist to focus on these 246 publicly available, identifiable 4* case studies – they represent less than 4% of the whole REF2021 impact case study database – but I know (from my own work with academics and research managers) that this list is a useful entry point to exploring the database more widely.

It’s worth noting that not every UoA had unambiguously identifiable 4* case studies. In case the UoA you are interested in doesn’t appear below, watch this space because I’ll be putting together an accompanying list of the top 5 impact submissions in every UoA .

I hope this all makes sense and helps you find some useful impact case study examples, whatever your area. Any issues, just leave a comment or get in touch !

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ref2021 impact case study database

Analysis of MRC-funded non-academic impacts submitted to REF2021

This report provides a selection of non-academic research impacts submitted to the 2021 REF assessment that had a connection to MRC investments.

ref2021 impact case study database

Exploring the breadth of impacts arising from MRC-funded research (PDF)

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Exploring the breadth of impacts arising from MRC-funded research annex one (PDF)

PDF , 879 KB

This report provides a selection of research impacts submitted by UK higher education institutions (HEIs) to the 2021 REF assessment that had a connection to the Medical Research Council (MRC) investments.

The Research Excellence Framework (REF) is a national assessment of the research taking place approximately every six years across UK HEIs. As MRC institutes do not report impacts from their research to the REF assessment, impacts from this part of MRC’s portfolio do not feature in the report. As part of REF2021, UK HEIs submitted 6781 impact case studies intended to demonstrate the impact of their research on wider society and the economy. Automated and manual searches of the database were used to obtain 569 REF2021 impact case studies (ICS) associated with MRC funding (hereafter referred to as MRC-ICS). These records were screened to focus on 60 exemplar MRC-ICS which are summarised in this report.

The records have been grouped into 35 narratives where common themes emerge and highlighted, where possible, instances where they fit within the themes of MRC’s strategic delivery plan. They demonstrate the breadth of impacts arising from MRC funded research, highlighting where MRC funding has made a significant contribution to realising this impact.

We reveal clear evidence that MRC funded infrastructure and underpinning research is associated with high quality impact case studies.  We show that MRC funding held by universities across the UK contributes to diverse impacts submitted to a broad range of units of assessment, and that these impacts are almost always the result of collaboration between multiple universities.

This is the website for UKRI: our seven research councils, Research England and Innovate UK. Let us know if you have feedback .

ref 2021 impact case study database

What's Your Question?

What Is a Case Study?

When you’re performing research as part of your job or for a school assignment, you’ll probably come across case studies that help you to learn more about the topic at hand. But what is a case study and why are they helpful? Read on to learn all about case studies.

Deep Dive into a Topic

At face value, a case study is a deep dive into a topic. Case studies can be found in many fields, particularly across the social sciences and medicine. When you conduct a case study, you create a body of research based on an inquiry and related data from analysis of a group, individual or controlled research environment.

As a researcher, you can benefit from the analysis of case studies similar to inquiries you’re currently studying. Researchers often rely on case studies to answer questions that basic information and standard diagnostics cannot address.

Study a Pattern

One of the main objectives of a case study is to find a pattern that answers whatever the initial inquiry seeks to find. This might be a question about why college students are prone to certain eating habits or what mental health problems afflict house fire survivors. The researcher then collects data, either through observation or data research, and starts connecting the dots to find underlying behaviors or impacts of the sample group’s behavior.

Gather Evidence

During the study period, the researcher gathers evidence to back the observed patterns and future claims that’ll be derived from the data. Since case studies are usually presented in the professional environment, it’s not enough to simply have a theory and observational notes to back up a claim. Instead, the researcher must provide evidence to support the body of study and the resulting conclusions.

Present Findings

As the study progresses, the researcher develops a solid case to present to peers or a governing body. Case study presentation is important because it legitimizes the body of research and opens the findings to a broader analysis that may end up drawing a conclusion that’s more true to the data than what one or two researchers might establish. The presentation might be formal or casual, depending on the case study itself.

Draw Conclusions

Once the body of research is established, it’s time to draw conclusions from the case study. As with all social sciences studies, conclusions from one researcher shouldn’t necessarily be taken as gospel, but they’re helpful for advancing the body of knowledge in a given field. For that purpose, they’re an invaluable way of gathering new material and presenting ideas that others in the field can learn from and expand upon.


ref 2021 impact case study database

Alternatively, use our A–Z index

REF 2021 impact case studies

A complete list of University research impact case studies submitted to the Research Excellence Framework 2021.

Our REF 2021 submission was one of the largest in the higher education sector, including a total of 160 impact case studies from across our three Faculties.

We submitted examples of our research impact to 31 subject areas – explore individual impact case studies and key researchers involved.

UOA 1 Clinical Medicine

  • Preventing stillbirths and improving the quality of care after a baby dies Key researchers:  Alexander Heazell , Rebecca Jones , Colin Sibley
  • Advancing treatments for lysosomal storage disorders Key researchers:  Brian Bigger , Robert Wynn, Simon Jones, Alexander Broomfield
  • Radiotherapy research changes standard clinical practice and improves survival for patients with small-cell lung cancer Key researchers:  Corinne Faivre-Finn , Fiona Blackhall , Paul Lorigan
  • Clinical trials in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) advancing effective combination treatments Key researchers:  Dave Singh , Jorgen Vestbo
  • Transforming patient outcome of pulmonary aspergillosis with better and faster diagnosis and therapy Key researchers:  David Denning , Rob Niven, Timothy Felton
  • New targeted therapies in non-small cell lung cancer improve patient outcomes Key researchers:  Fiona Blackhall , Malcolm Ranson  
  • Cough monitoring system adopted in clinical trials to enable development of treatments for patients with refractory chronic cough Key researchers:  Jaclyn Smith , Kevin McGuinness, Ashley Woodcock
  • Improving survival and reducing treatment damage in Hodgkin lymphoma Key researchers:  John Radford , Tim Illidge
  • Manchester’s Lung Health Checks: community-based screening boosts early lung cancer detection and leads to national screening pilots Key researchers:  Philip Crosbie , Richard Booton
  • Rapid diagnostic pathways reduce unnecessary hospital admissions for suspected acute coronary syndromes Key researchers:  Richard Body , Kevin Mackway-Jones, Simon Carley, Garry McDowell
  • Access to more effective therapies in Non-Hodgkin lymphoma Key researchers:  Tim Illidge , John Radford , Jamie Honeychurch

UOA 2 Public Health, Health Services and Primary Care

  • Radical reorganisation of trauma services reduces risk and saves many lives among severely injured patients Key researchers: Antoinette Edwards, Omar Bouamra, Hiren Patel , Fiona Lecky, David Yates
  • Successfully tackling serious fungal diseases to transform global population health Key researchers:  David Denning , Malcolm Richardson , Sara Gago
  • Definitive multinational efficacy trials and pioneering real-world evidence informing treatments and international strategy for managing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) Key researchers:  Jorgen Vestbo , Dave Singh , Ashley Woodcock
  • Biologics registers for immune-mediated inflammatory diseases: enhancing access to novel therapies and balancing drug safety concerns versus effectiveness Key researchers:  Kimme Hyrich , Ian Bruce , Chris Griffiths , Richard Warren , Deborah Symmons , Darren Ashcroft , Will Dixon, Mark Lunt , Zenas Yiu , Louise Mercer
  • Risk assessment and suicide prevention: Improving skills and confidence of frontline workers internationally through STORM training Key researchers: Linda Gask, Gillian Green, Louis Appleby , Richard Morris
  • ASPIRE™: Using machine learning to detect undiagnosed fractures in patients with osteoporosis Key researchers:  Paul A Bromiley , Timothy Cootes , Eleni Kariki , Judith Adams
  • Stimulating debate, changing practice and influencing policy in tackling drug-related deaths in the UK, Europe and USA Key researchers:  Tim Millar , Graham Dunn, Matthias Pierce , Andrew Jones

UOA 3 Allied Health Professions, Dentistry, Nursing and Pharmacy

  • Redressing health inequalities through evidence-based health and social care practice with deaf sign language users Key researchers: Alys Young , Katherine Rogers , Emma Ferguson-Coleman
  • Modernising drug development practices for precision dosing in diverse patient populations Key researchers: Amin Rostami-Hodjegan , Leon Aarons , Jill Barber , Aleksandra Galetin
  • Promoting oral health in medically compromised patients to improve patient outcomes Key researchers:  Anne-Marie Glenny , Helen Worthington , Janet Clarkson , Philip Riley , Martin McCabe
  • Optimising patient care for the prevention of dental caries Key researchers:  Anne-Marie Glenny , Helen Worthington , Janet Clarkson , Tanya Walsh
  • Falls prevention amongst older people: increased reach and further impact of interventions, uptake and adherence Key researchers:  Chris Todd , Dawn Skelton, Jackie Oldham , Maria Horne
  • Improving health service support for family carers during end-of-life care: implementing a Carer Support Needs Assessment Tool Intervention (CSNAT-I) and principles for organisation change Key researchers: Gunn Grande , Lynn Austin, Janet Diffin
  • Transforming referral management in oral surgery Key researchers:  Iain Pretty , Tanya Walsh , Martin Tickle , Caroline Sanders
  • Optimising outcomes for people with venous leg ulcers Key researchers:  Jo Dumville , Nicky Cullum , Paul Wilson
  • Smart inhaler improves adherence to treatment for children with Asthma Key researchers:  Tariq Aslam , Clare Murray , David Henson, Ian Murray

UOA 4 Psychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience

  • Metacognitive therapy improves outcomes for patients with anxiety and depression worldwide Key researchers:  Adrian Wells , David Reeves , Pia Callesen
  • Transforming long-term support for stroke survivors – developing and implementing clinical tools that informed national policy and improved regional and national service provision
  • Key researchers:  Audrey Bowen , Emma Patchwood , Andy Vail
  • Transforming autism treatment worldwide Key researchers:  Jonathan Green , Shruti Garg , Ming Wai Wan
  • Worldwide reduction in the number of children exposed to harmful antiepileptic drugs in the womb Key researchers:  Rebecca Bromley , Jill Clayton-Smith
  • A new international measurement standard and guidelines for healthy lighting Key researchers:  Timothy Brown , Robert Lucas , Annette Allen
  • World’s first effective treatment to prevent psychosis has been implemented as standard treatment in NHS mental health services across England Key researchers: Tony Morrison, Paul French, Richard Bentall, Linda Davies , Graham Dunn, Shon Lewis , Sophie Parker, Rory Byrne
  • Shaping UK policy and guidelines for suicide prevention Key researchers: Pauline Turnbull , Louis Appleby

UOA 5 Biological Science

  • Commercial development and patient benefit of adoptive cell therapy (ACT) for cancer Key researchers: Fiona Thistlethwaite, Robert Hawkins , Peter Stern, David Gilham
  • Transforming the management of people with inherited eye diseases: a paradigm for the implementation of genomic medicine Key researchers:  Graeme Black , Panos Sergouniotis , Jamie Ellingford , Rachel Taylor
  • Improving treatment and prevention of cervical cancer in Kenya Key researchers:  Ian Hampson , Lynne Hampson
  • A new international lighting standard that meets our biological needs Key researchers:  Robert Lucas , Tim Brown , Annette Allen , Helena Bailes
  • The miRBase microRNA database – driving the development of commercial microRNA research tools, diagnostics and therapeutics Key researchers:  Sam Griffiths-Jones , Ana Kozomara, Maria Birgaoanu
  • Improved infection awareness, prevention and treatment in hard-to-reach groups Key researchers:  Sheena Cruickshank , Kathryn Else , Joanne Pennock , Richard Grencis , Andrew MacDonald , Philip Withers
  • Re-animating school biology lessons through teaching with living flies Key researchers: Andreas Prokop , Sanjai Patel
  • Defining global antifungal azole resistance in Aspergillus – enhancing diagnostics and driving drug discovery Key researchers: David Denning , Peter Warn, Michael Bromley , Paul Bowyer , Caroline Moore

UOA 7 Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences

  • Affecting change of UK public health policy on vitamin D, sun exposure, skin cancer and vitamin D supplementation Key researchers:  Ann Webb , Lesley Rhodes
  • Arsenic research identifies avoidable health risks from groundwater arsenic informing increased awareness, policy change and mitigation Key researchers:  David Polya , Jonathan Lloyd , Bart Van Dongen , Jianxin Pan
  • New geological understanding reducing risk and uncertainty to improve economic exploitation of oil and gas resources across North Africa Key researchers:  Jonathan Redfern , Cathy Hollis , Mads Huuse , Kevin Taylor , Stefan Schroeder , Emma Finch , David Hodgetts
  • Development of radioactive effluent management strategies at Sellafield delivers economic and environmental benefits Key researchers:  Katherine Morris , Sam Shaw , Jon Lloyd , Kurt Smith, Lynn Foster, Tom Neill
  • The development of new international regulatory standards deliver global engine emission limits and reduction in aviation soot Key researcher:  Paul Williams
  • Making drinking water safe by enabling ‘smart’ water distribution networks Key researchers:  Stephen Boult , John Gaffney

UOA 8 Chemistry

  • C4X Discovery: generating market-leading drug candidates from cutting-edge technology Key researchers:  Andrew Almond , Charles Blundell
  • DOSY and pure shift NMR: from changed practice in the chemical, pharmaceutical and scientific instrument industries to a multimillion-pound new food ingredient Key researchers:  Mathias Nilsson , Gareth Morris , Ralph Adams
  • Driving the industrial biotechnology revolution: cheaper and more sustainable chemical manufacturing through enzyme discovery, engineering and scale-up Key researchers:  Nickolas Turner , Sabine Flitsch , Nigel Scrutton , Jason Micklefield , Michael Greaney , Nicholas Weise , Christopher Hardacre , Sarah Lovelock , Anthony Green

UOA 9 Physics

  • Establishing the UK’s first high-energy proton beam therapy service at The Christie Hospital Manchester and University College London Hospital Key researchers: Hywel Owen, Robert Appleby , Ranald Mackay, Karen Kirkby , Roger Barlow
  • Increased public understanding and economic impact arising from particle physics and cosmology research Key researchers: Richard Battye, Brian Cox, Richard Davies, Clive Dickinson , Jeffrey Forshaw , Patrick Leahy , Althea Wilkinson
  • Establishing and directing the world’s most significant radio astronomy infrastructure investment: the Square Kilometre Array Key researchers: Andrew Faulkner, Simon Garrington, Keith Grainge , Michael Kramer, Anna Scaife , Richard Schilizzi, Ralph Spencer, Benjamin Stappers, Peter Wilkinson
  • Influence on graphene policy and global market growth Key researchers: Konstantin Novaselov, Andre Geim, Cinzia Casiraghi , Ursel Bangert, Rahul Nair
  • Product enhancement by graphene Key researchers:  Konstantin Novaselov, Andre Geim, Aravind Vijayaraghavan
  • Radio astronomy and big data – bringing STEM training to the developing world Key researchers:  Robert Beswick , Anna Scaife , Benjamin Stappers, Peter Wilkinson, Rene Breton , Anita M S Richards
  • Jodrell Bank astronomy research inspires millions of people from a wide range of backgrounds to be more engaged with science Key researchers:  Tim O'Brien , Robert Beswick , Rene Breton , Clive Dickinson , Simon Garrington, Michael Kramer

UOA 10 Mathematical Sciences

  • Image reconstruction algorithms underpin Rapiscan Systems RTT®110 baggage scanner, bringing benefits to airports and generating over $215 million in sales Key researchers:  William Lionheart , Marta Betcke, Nicola Wadeson, William Thompson
  • Modelling in a pandemic: advising the UK response to COVID-19 and protecting enclosed communities Key researchers: Lorenzo Pellis , Ian Hall , Thomas House , Christopher Overton, Helena Stage, Stefan Gü ttel
  • Making industrial installations safer and more efficient by identifying real and false alarms Key researchers:  Stefan Güttel , Tim Butters, Nicholas Higham , Jonathan Shapiro

UOA 11 Computer Science and Informatics

  • Groundbreaking computer vision research revolutionises digital entertainment Key researchers:  Chris Taylor , Tim Cootes , Carole Twining, David Christinacce, Kola Babalola, Vlad Petrovic
  • Context-aware text mining for the pharmaceutical sector Key researchers:  Goran Nenadic , David Robertson
  • Rule-based analysis for talking to spacecraft Key researchers: Howard Barringer, David Rydeheard
  • SpiNNaker – enabling brain-inspired AI Key researchers:  Steve Furber , James Garside , David Lester, Oliver Rhodes
  • Improving healthcare and animal welfare using statistical shape models Key researchers:  Tim Cootes , Chris Taylor , Carole Twining, Claudia Lindner , Rodri Davies

UOA 12 Engineering

  • Manchester’s independent graphite research for the Office for Nuclear Regulation has been instrumental in improving the safety, security and reliability of the UK’s nuclear industry Key researchers:  Abbie Jones , Paul Mummery , Barry Marsden , Graham Hall , Alex Theodosiou , Muhammad Fahad, Tatiana Grebennikova , Rahul Nair , Wu Wen
  • Providing the scientific foundations to grow a sustainable, low-carbon UK bioenergy sector Key researchers:  Andrew Welfle , Patricia Thornley, Mirjam Roder, Paul Gilbert
  • Financial and environmental benefits through the development and transfer of control and monitoring technology in the process industries Key researchers:  Barry Lennox , David Sandoz, Ognjen Marjarnovic , Matt Desforges, Matt McEwan, Marie O'Brien
  • Empowering local climate change action: shaping local authority policy through the adoption of carbon budgets Key researchers:  Carly McLachlan , Alice Larkin , Kevin Anderson , Jaise Kuriakose , John Broderick, Chris Jones , Sarah Mander , Ruth Wood
  • Increasing renewable energy and reducing customer bills: using managed connections and flexible demand response controls in the electricity network to support decarbonisation with the minimum infrastructure investment Key researchers:  Haiyu Li , Eduardo A Martinez-Ceseña , Jovica Milanovic , Zhongdong Wang , Luis F Ochoa, Pierluigi Mancarella, Christopher Jones
  • Reducing climate change caused by shipping and aviation Key researchers:  Alice Larkin , Kevin Anderson , Sarah Mander , Ruth Wood , John Broderick, Conor Walsh, Paul Gilbert, Michael Traut
  • System-scale design of water resource systems improves water security and resilience Key researchers:  Julien Harou , Evgenii Matrosov , James Tomlinson, Anthony Hurford, Ivana Huskova, Andrew Slaughter, Robel Geressu, Erfani Tohid, Kevis Pachos
  • Increasing productivity in the process industries through the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning for the optimisation of distillation operations Key researchers:  Robin Smith , Megan Jobson , Nan Zhang , Lluvia Ochoa-Estopier
  • Helping Rolls-Royce plc improve jet engine efficiency Key researchers:  Ping Xiao , Xiaofeng Zhao
  • Robotic and mechatronic manufacturing of 3D shell-shaped textile products to deliver medical and structural textile reinforcements Key researchers:  Prasad Potluri , Tilak Dias, Anura Fernando
  • Improved designs of high voltage overhead lines enable increased transmission capacity providing environmental and financial benefits Key researchers:  Simon Rowland , Ian Cotton , Iain Dupere, Konstantinos Kopsidas , Vidyadhar Peesapati , Roger Shuttleworth, Jeff Robertson, Antonios Tzimas
  • Reducing usage of fossil oil-based insulating liquids in power transformers to deliver environmental, safety, and financial benefits Key researchers: Qiang Li, Zhongdong Wang , Shanika Matharage, Paul Jarman
  • New industrial electromagnetic sensor systems improve safety processes and optimise capabilities in the UK's energy, rail and manufacturing sectors   Key researchers: Adam Fletcher, Anthony Peyton , Wuliang Yin , William Lionheart , Liam Marsh , Michael O'Toole

UOA 13 Architecture, Built Environment and Planning

  • Strengthening planning for urban climate change adaptation and resilience Key researchers:  Jeremy Carter , Stephen Hincks, John Handley, Angela Connelly
  • Ketso: improving professional practice and participation by embedding research findings into a physical toolkit Key researcher:  Joanne Tippett
  • The Climate Just mapping tool: supporting planners in understanding social and spatial vulnerability to climate change Key researcher:  Richard Kingston

UOA 14 Geography and Environmental Studies

  • Mobilising urban living labs to create sustainable infrastructure Key researchers:  James Evans , Jana Wendler
  • Climate Just: shaping more socially-aware responses to climate change Key researchers: Sarah Lindley , Joseph Kandeh, Alexandra Kazmierczak, Angela Connelly, Nigel Lawson
  • The Everyday Austerity project: shaping welfare policy and practice and shifting public understanding of the everyday impacts of austerity in the UK Key researcher: Sarah Marie Hall
  • Transforming European energy poverty policy Key researchers:  Stefan Bouzarovski , Saska Petrova , Harriet Thomson, Neil Simcock, Sergio Tirado Herrero, Caitlin Robinson

UOA 16 Economics and Econometrics

  • Designing and implementing a new Kidney Exchange (DEC-K) programme in Italy Key researcher: Antonio Nicolò
  • Fuller working lives and the economics of ageing Key researcher:  James Banks
  • Building analytical capacity, informing monetary and macroprudential policy, and strengthening policy frameworks in central banks in middle-income countries Key researchers:  Pierre-Richard Agénor , Kyriakos Neanidis
  • Shaping the design of economic policy to reduce diet-related disease Key researcher:  Rachel Griffith

UOA 17 Business and Management Studies

  • Influencing policy, management practices, and response capabilities for the effective management of spontaneous volunteers during disasters Key researchers:  Duncan Shaw , Jenny Moreno, Chris Smith
  • Changing how international policy organisations understand and manage environmental problems Key researcher:  Frank Geels
  • Addressing workplace bullying and harassment: building systems and competences for formal intervention Key researchers:  Helge Hoel , Cary Cooper
  • Stimulating demand-side innovation through policies on the Public Procurement of Innovation (PPI) Key researchers:  Jakob Edler , Elvira Uyarra , Luke Georghiou , Jillian Yeow
  • Influencing international and national employment policies to promote inclusive labour markets Key researchers:  Jill Rubery , Aristea Koukiadaki , Isabel Tavora , Miguel Martinez-Lucio , Damian Grimshaw , Mathew Johnson , Arjan Keizer
  • Influencing innovation and servitisation in small and medium-sized enterprises in Manchester Key researchers:  Judy Zolkiewski , Jamie Burton
  • The Foundational Economy: influencing economic policy and practice in Wales Key researchers: Julie Froud, Michael Moran, Karel Williams
  • Development and implementation of improved software and service systems in the European manufacturing industry Key researchers:  Nikolay Mehandjiev , Iain Stalker, Martin Carpenter
  • Evaluating and improving extended access to primary care Key researchers:  Ruth Boaden , Damian Hodgson , William Whittaker
  • Improving public and organisational policies on health and wellbeing in an ageing workforce Key researchers: Sheena Johnson , Helge Hoel , Lynn Holdsworth
  • Influencing labour standards and stakeholder action through international, European and national law and policy Key researcher:  Aristea Koukiadaki
  • Shaping domestic abuse policy and practice Key researcher: David Gadd
  • Shaping administrative justice policymaking Key researcher: Robert Thomas
  • Shaping COVID-19 vaccination policy and practice Key researcher:  Søren Holm
  • Protecting Education Rights in Russian Law and through International Standards Key researchers: Maria Smirnova, Christopher Thornhill

UOA 19 Politics and International Studies

  • Strengthening political representation and advocacy of the Roma community in Slovenia Key researchers:  Andreja Zevnik , Andrew Russell
  • Informing British democracy: the impact of the British Election Study on the media, polling, and political party decision making Key researchers:  Edward Fieldhouse , Jane Green, Chris Prosser, Jonathan Mellon
  • Getting gender on the devolution agenda in Greater Manchester Key researchers:  Francesca Gains , Clare Annesley
  • Jam and justice: shaping policy through co-production Key researcher: Liz Richardson
  • Increasing the integrity of the British elections while protecting the rights of the individual voters Key researcher:  Maria Sobolewska

UOA 21 Sociology

  • Influencing cultural policy for democracy by mobilising the civic capacity of ‘left behind’ communities Key researchers:  Andrew Miles, Jill Ebrey
  • History lessons/Our Migration Story: creating an inclusive history curriculum Key researcher:  Claire Alexander
  • Ensuring more effective and safer data sharing practices through the Anonymisation Decision Making Framework Key researchers:  Mark Elliot , Elaine Mackey
  • The impact of research on work, stress and wellbeing on influencing employment policies and public campaigns on improving working conditions Key researcher:  Tarani Chandola
  • Age-friendly cities: improving the lives of older people in urban communities through research Key researchers:  Tine Buffel , Chris Phillipson

UOA 22a Development Studies

  • Promoting small farmer cooperation for sustainable livelihoods in India and Nepal Key researcher: Bina Agarwal
  • Preventing cardiovascular disease in rural Indonesia by using a smartphone app in a socio-medical intervention Key researcher: Gindo Tampubolon
  • Using political analysis to make development policy more effective in delivering inclusive growth and poverty reduction Key researchers:  Sam Hickey , Kunal Sen , David Hulme , Tom Lavers , Antonio Savoia , Pritish Behuria , Pablo Yanguas
  • Gender equality in global value chains: promoting company, civil society and policy strategies Key researcher:  Stephanie Barrientos

UOA 22b Social Anthropology

  • Shaping public debate and policy on cosmetic procedures in the UK Key researcher:  Jeanette Edwards
  • The establishment of a Catholic family centre for Papua New Guineans in Cairns, Far North Queensland Key researcher:  Karen Sykes
  • Reframing understandings of the sonic environment in Okinawa, Japan Key researcher:  Rupert Cox

UOA 23 Education

  • New-generation children's zones: supporting schools and their partners to implement long-term sustainable change in disadvantaged areas Key researchers:  Kirstin Kerr , Alan Dyson, Carlo Raffo
  • Transforming wellbeing provision in education: changing the way that schools identify, monitor and provide support for mental health needs among their pupils Key researchers:  Neil Humphrey , Michael Wigelsworth , Kirstin Kerr , Pam Qualter
  • Promoting equity in undergraduate admissions Key researcher: Steven Jones

UOA 25 Area Studies

  • Developing emergency medical team deployments worldwide Key researchers:  Bertrand Taithe , Tony Redmond , Anisa Jafar , Amy Hughes
  • Making data work for the humanitarian community Key researchers: Larissa Fast, Bertrand Taithe , Róisín Read , Sophie Roborgh , Allard Duursma, Roger Mac Ginty

UOA 26 Modern Languages and Linguistics

  • Enhancing delivery of multilingual support services for domestic abuse survivors Key researcher: Rebecca Tipton
  • Bertolt Brecht’s legacy: enhancing understanding, stimulating debate and influencing creative practice Key researcher: Stephen Parker
  • Conflict with Russia in the new information environment: shaping policy analysis, broadcaster practices and public understanding Key researchers:  Steve Hutchings , Vera Tolz
  • Influencing local government strategies and European policy discussion on Eastern European Roma migrants Key researcher:  Yaron Matras
  • Supporting social inclusion and justice through enhanced understanding and recognition of language diversity Key researcher:  Yaron Matras

UOA 27 English Language and Literature

  • Queer arts as activism Key researchers: Jackie Stacey , Monica Pearl , Laura Doan
  • The Centre for New Writing: developing new writers and audiences, enriching public debate and informing arts policy Key researchers: John McAuliffe , Honor Gavin , Jeanette Winterson , Ian McGuire , Kamila Shamsie , Beth Underdown
  • Changing public perception and creative practice around the Irish migrant experience in Britain Key researcher: Liam Harte
  • Show me the money: improving public and professional understanding of economics and finance Key researcher: Peter Knight

UOA 28 History

  • History for humanitarians: developing and deploying historical methods for humanitarian agencies and policymakers Key researchers:  Bertrand Taithe , Eleanor Davey
  • Transforming public understanding and engagement, improving staff and volunteer practice, and increasing revenue in the National Trust’s north of England region Key researcher: Hannah Barker
  • Corpses of mass violence: changing practice in forensic exhumations Key researcher: Jean-Marc Dreyfus
  • Sleeping on it: using history to understand and address today's sleep crisis Key researcher: Sasha Handley

UOA 29 Classics

  • The circulation of ancient manuscripts on the antiquities market: improving the ethical and regulatory practices and standards of market stakeholders Key researcher:  Roberta Mazza
  • Cultural protection in post-conflict Iraq Key researcher: Stuart Campbell

UOA 30 Philosophy

  • Climate Just: mapping climate disadvantage Key researcher: John O'Neill
  • Flood re: flood insurance and social justice Key researcher: John O'Neill

UOA 31 Theology and Religious Studies

  • Enhancing church practitioner training, public understanding and the work of Christian communicators through a new paradigm for explaining early Christian diversity Key researcher: Peter Oakes

UOA 32 Art and Design: History, Practice and Theory

  • "I am Tibetan, this is my story": developing new museological approaches to the representation of Tibet Key researcher: Emma Martin
  • Developing a museum policy and practice for the curation of spontaneous memorials after terrorist attacks and their use for post-trauma recovery Key researcher: Kostas Arvanitis

UOA 33a Drama, Dance, Performing Arts, Film and Screen Studies

  • In Place of War (IPOW) supporting, developing and promoting artists from conflict zones: from responsive research to internationally significant arts organisation Key researchers: James Thompson , Jenny Hughes , Alison Jeffers
  • Multi-Story Water: cultivating environmental citizenship in West Yorkshire through sited performance research Key researcher: Stephen Scott-Bottoms

UOA 33b Music

  • Singing for life: advancing natural voice practice through professional development and intercultural engagement Key researcher:  Caroline Bithell
  • Sonic adventures: enhancing cultural experiences through geolocative audio and interactive composition Key researcher:  Ricardo Climent

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ref 2021 impact case study database

The landscape of development research impact: An analysis of REF2021 impact case studies

The Research Excellence Framework (REF) is a national peer-review assessment of the quality of research undertaken by UK Higher Education Institutions (HEIs). This report uses the  REF2021 impact case studies database  to explore the  non-academic impact of development research in the UK research landscape.  The analysis in this report identifies  key enablers  to research impact and presents ways to  amplify this impact.  The report focuses specifically on international development research case studies, defined as those which involve research that addresses global challenges in alignment with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and results in beneficial change for Low- and Middle-Income Countries (LMICs), specific regions, and/or the global community.

The case studies analysed herein include Official Development Assistance (ODA) and non-ODA funded research.

From the REF2021 impact case studies database, which includes 6,781 case studies, UKCDR identified a sample of  891 international development research case studies.  From this sample, we conducted a portfolio analysis identifying the general patterns in the types of impact achieved across different disciplines and research areas. This was complemented by a  case study deep dive , which involved interviewing UK-based researchers and LMIC partners involved in the impact from 10 selected case studies. The deep dive was undertaken to better understand the connections between how research is conducted and the type of development impact achieved.

This report provides a snapshot of international development research undertaken by UK HEIs in the REF2021 period (2013-2020). Based on the REF2021 definition of non-academic impact, it gives an overview of the  types of impact  research has in LMICs and globally and how this differs  across disciplines and topics.

It also provides a new framework of research enablers for impactful development research and mechanisms for supporting these.  The framework encompasses six dimensions:

  • understanding of impact;
  • funding approaches;
  • co-production with research users;
  • long-term equitable partnerships;
  • embedded capacity strengthening; and
  • operational processes.

If you’d like to understand this work better or arrange a meeting for your organisation/team, please reach out to UKCDR Research and Policy Officer, Andrea Padilla at [email protected] .


The Landscape of UK Development Research Impact: An analysis of REF2021 impact case studies

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The Research Excellence Framework (REF) is a national assessment of research quality conducted across all UK higher education institutions (HEIs). It takes place roughly every 7 years. HEIs submit research outputs (journal articles, books, practice-based), cases studies of research impact and a description of the supporting environment for research in the institution.

Professor Jan Selby

The issue: Most research on water and climate security views over–population and natural resource scarcities as the key drivers of environment–related conflicts and insecurities; and most of it is also aligned with the interests of the powerful, whether powerful individual states, or Northern actors and institutions.

The research:  Jan Selby and colleagues’ political ecology–informed research contests the overly–simplified and dominant narratives, by revealing the fundamentally political causes and character of water and climate–related conflicts and insecurities. It analyses and exposes patterns of water and climate–related domination, and in doing so advances alternative – and explicitly political – frameworks for understanding and responding to water and climate security crises. The impact:  Research by Jan Selby and collaborators on issues of water and climate security has advanced alternative analytical and policy frameworks at a range of sites and scales. The research had impact in five specific areas: (1) the Israeli–Palestinian Joint Water Committee; (2) the role of climate change in the Syrian civil war; (3) challenging a UN study of Middle East waters; (4) supporting the transformation of the Palestinian water sector; and (5) the global security implications of water scarcities and climate change. Across these areas, the research has: enriched public and policy understandings; generated debate, critique and dissent; contributed to holding governments and international organisations to account; prompted policy changes and institutional reforms; affected international aid and negotiation priorities; and influenced patterns of water infrastructure development and water supply.  

For example, by 2015, the thesis that climate change–induced migration in Syria had been a decisive spark for the country’s civil war had become paradigmatic to climate security discourse, and a global policy and media orthodoxy. Jan Selby and colleagues, however, found this thesis to be without merit revealing that there was no robust evidence of ‘climate migrants’ contributing to civil war onset in Syria; that north–east Syria’s pre–civil war ecological crisis was essentially political rather than climatic in its causes; and that the standard ‘climate conflict’ narrative was largely a product of Assad regime and donor interests in blaming the climate for this politically–induced crisis. Jan Selby also analysed and critiqued a high–profile UN study of Middle East water issues for its pro–Israeli and anti–Arab biases, and has made various proposals for the transformation of the Palestinian water sector. At a more general level he has sought to rethink and advance new frameworks for understanding the global security implications of water scarcities and climate change. He has done this by critiquing the dominant narrative, by analysing the interests behind them, by drawing attention instead to the political and economic causes of water and climate insecurities, and by highlighting the profound security implications of climate change adaptation and mitigation. 

Dr Fabio Petito The issue: Until recently, religion has either been neglected, or viewed as the ultimate threat to security by foreign policy makers.

The research:  Leading the first ever research project on ‘Religion and IR Theory’ (1999–2004), Fabio Petito has contributed to setting up a new reflexive research agenda that challenges the secularist bias of International Relations and the assumption that the politicisation of religion is an inescapable threat to security and detrimental to modernity. Challenging secularisation as the master narrative of modernity and highlighting the ‘secular’ as a site of exclusion, Fabio’s work has advanced the post–secular as a normative plea for new models of global politics which include religious views. He has demonstrated the need to develop a post–secular sensibility in understanding international politics and in shaping foreign policy by removing what the diplomatic community has been increasingly acknowledging as ‘secular blind spots’ and creating new forms of secular–religious partnerships to respond to global challenges.

The impact:  Fabio Petito’s research on post–secularism has contributed to a change in the policy mind–set and practices of the Italian, UK and other Western governments by questioning foreign policy makers’ secular blind spots and by developing proposals that enable policymakers to better integrate religion into foreign policy. In particular, Fabio Petito’s work on religious engagement has significantly impacted on Italian foreign policy strategic planning, while his innovative approach to Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB) promotion has influenced European governments, as well as international organisations such as the EU & OSCE (Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe), leading them to develop new initiatives.

Fabio Petito’s research has enabled Western policymakers to: 1) integrate religious literacy and engagement in foreign policy, and 2) design and implement innovative strategies to promote FoRB through foreign policy. These two areas of impact were respectively developed through two major programmes and platforms for engagement that he has led: The Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) initiative on ‘Religions and International Relations’ (2012–2017), institutionalised in 2018 as a programme based at the leading Italian think tank Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI); and the FoRB & Foreign Policy Initiative at the University of Sussex, started as a British Council/Luce Foundation funded project (2014–16) with a transatlantic focus. This was officially launched in 2017 as a research and policy programme partnered with the FCO, the UK Parliament, the EU and Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)/Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR). 

Professor James Fairhead The issue:  The Ebola outbreak in West Africa that began in 2014 was the largest outbreak of this severe and often fatal disease. At the time the public health response faltered for a variety of reasons, many of which were social and cultural (such as those associated with mortuary and burial practices), but which were also political and economic.

The research:  James Fairhead had conducted anthropological fieldwork over two decades, living among communities in the Forest Region of the Republic of Guinea where, in December 2013, the Ebola epidemic began. His book Vaccine Anxieties documented how existing ideas about the causes of health and disease affect attitudes towards vaccination, but it showed too how other factors shape attendance and ‘compliance’ linked to politics, poverty and structural violence. In particular, he revealed how international health interventions – such as vaccination campaigns that are disconnected from nationally administered routine services – invite suspicions. Many people in this region can attribute the causes of illness to improper or immoral conduct or to ancestral and spiritual forces, and the men’s and women’s initiation institutions that order political life, also oversee social conduct, including burial and relations with the dead. Deeply–felt social and political tensions and misunderstandings emerged when the national and international Ebola response sought to exert control over the critically ill and the burial of the dead, and imposed their version of what was a ‘safe and dignified burial’. Social practices around burial thus became critical to understanding local reactions to the humanitarian Ebola response.

James Fairhead’s research also provided insights concerning local understandings in West Africa of medical research trials into immunization which explained sensitivities to medical practices, such as blood taking, and how this can often be interpreted locally as stealing. These were important issues in the roll–out of Ebola vaccine trials during the epidemic and became central to understanding how to develop securitised burials for Ebola to avoid ‘super spreading’ events.

The impact:  James Fairhead’s existing research showed why many aspects of the humanitarian response were being perceived locally as a threat, and how better community relations could inflect the humanitarian response to make it more efficient and effective.  In September 2014 Fairhead united leading anthropologists of the region and together initiated a collaborative ‘Ebola Response Anthropology Platform’ ( ERAP ) that could focus wider global expertise on this problem. Through solicited rapid response briefings ERAP became a focal point to feed social analysis proactively into the escalating medical response and offered real–time advice to the needs raised by medical and humanitarian responders as the unprecedented and uncertain events unfolded. Drawing on previous research James Fairhead contributed reports and briefings on Social Resistance to the Humanitarian Response; Safe and Dignified Burials; Community Engagement and Behaviour Change; Stigma and Survivors and the social logics of the healthcare and mortuary practices. ERAP questioned the initial parallel institutionalization of Ebola response separate from existing trusted health and community structures, and showed why Ebola could only be contained with the explicit involvement and active participation of local communities, what this might involve, and how this could be achieved.

Working across disciplines and with policymakers and practitioners, it generated the atmosphere of a moving workshop, brainstorming the unprecedented challenges that the unfolding Ebola crisis posed, feeding into the highest–level fora. ERAP was adopted as a social science sub–group of the UK Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) and altered community engagement practices that resolved social stand–offs on the ground (e.g. in Guinea). Three UK Parliamentary Inquiries into the Ebola response highlighted ERAP’s contributions. The ERAP model brought anthropology and wider social sciences into epidemic and wider emergency preparedness. Now renamed the Social Science in Humanitarian Action Platform (SSHAP), James Fairhead has since supported its briefings addressing the Ebola epidemic in Eastern DRC (2018–20), and this platform model has informed the COVID–19 response.

Professor Anna Stavrianakis The issue : The UK is one of the world’s largest arms exporters and a supporter of states that abuse human rights and violate international humanitarian law, such as Saudi Arabia. Simultaneously, the UK has also been a key champion of the UN Arms Trade Treaty, both during its negotiation and as a State Party. The UK thus claims to promote the highest standards of international regulation, whilst authorising exports that violate those standards. 

The research : This research scrutinises the often secretive policy and practices of UK arms exports. Anna Stavrianakis’ analysis of UK arms export policy towards Saudi Arabia demonstrates that the UK government is failing to implement its publicly–stated policy and legal obligations that restrict arms exports where there is a clear risk that they might be used in a violation of international humanitarian law. Instead it is primarily concerned with managing domestic criticism and maintaining good relations with the Saudi government. Through strategies of creating doubt and ambiguity about the risks of arms exports, the UK government demonstrates an unwillingness to pay adequate attention to potential civilian harm, and an indifference to the consequences of its policy, continuing to issue export licences despite overwhelming evidence of the misuse of weapons in Yemen.

The research found the UK licensing process to be characterised by ritualized activity that functions to create the appearance of control and an image of benevolence and restraint, rather than to meaningfully restrict arms exports. Anna Stavrianakis’ research exposes the fundamental causes – in UK bureaucratic and governmental practice – of the reckless flow of UK arms that has exacerbated key civilian harms in the Yemen conflict since 2015. Her findings also cast doubt on the UK government’s compliance with obligations under domestic law and the UN Arms Trade Treaty to assess the risks of the misuse of UK–supplied weapons.   

The impact : Anna Stavrianakis’ research has had impact in two principal areas: 1) exposing the operation of unlawful export policy and practice, through FOI requests and media commentary; and 2) supporting key beneficiary groups including UK Parliamentary Select Committees and other MPs; NGOs and campaign groups; and members of the Opposition and Shadow Cabinet to hold the UK government to account and advocate for proper implementation and enforcement of the UK’s foreign policy and legal obligations. 

Dr Lyndsay McLean

The issue:  Gender–based violence and discrimination against women and girls is pervasive, yet the knowledge, skills and experiences of women and girls in the Global South are often insufficiently considered in the design of development programmes and policies intended to benefit them.

The research:  Research on gender equality, women’s empowerment and preventing gender–based violence led by Lyndsay McLean, includes the development and application of innovative participatory research methods that allow women and girls to engage in and narrate their experiences on their own terms. These methods generate unique insights into how they see their own lives; the attitudes, behaviours and norms that underpin their exclusion and experiences of violence; and how development programmes have impacted on them.

In Ghana, research examined the impacts of development projects that used community approaches to prevent violence against women and girls. Lyndsay co–designed an innovative visual story–mapping process, which enabled women with limited literacy to narrate their experiences of violence in a safe, supportive environment, and trained local researchers to co–facilitate the participatory workshops. Key insights include identifying the critical role of local women’s rights organisations, the importance of working with traditional leaders and the positive impacts of training community members (rather than outsiders) to address violence against women and girls.

Working with local partners in DRC, Lyndsay established a ‘Girl–Led Research Unit’ comprising fifteen Congolese young women aged 16–24 from different socio–economic backgrounds who undertook peer research with girls, young women and adults in Kinshasa, and participated in data analysis, writing and dissemination. Placing girl researchers at the heart of the research process generated unique insights into sensitive issues such as intimate relationships and transactional sex, less possible with adult researchers.

In Rwanda, she deployed innovative story–based methods in interactive workshops with community members as part of a research study to guide the design and evaluate the impacts of a programme to prevent intimate partner violence. The methods allowed a nuanced understanding of the complexity of social norms and sanctions around gender roles and the acceptability of violence in the communities. The impact:  The research has led to: (1) Integration of adolescent girls’ and young women’s priorities in the national policy on women, peace and security of the Government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) – the first in Africa to include such priorities; (2) new approaches in UK–funded programmes by local NGOs which reduced violence experienced by women and girls; the  indashyikirwa  programme (Rwanda) and CPOMBAT programme (Ghana) now feature in World Health Organisation and UN Women ‘ RESPECT Women’  implementation package that supports programming to prevent violence against women; (3) attitude change among key local and international stakeholders in DRC to see girls and young women as capable and skilled and involve them more fully in their work; (4) development of personal and professional skills and capacities for individual young women researchers, practitioners and participants in DRC. For example, the 15 ‘girl researchers’ have now established their own organisation, and continue to offer advice to key Congolese and international actors on programmes and policies for girls and young women.

Professor Magnus Marsden

Image from  Yiwu  research project

The issue:  The global media and influential international policy–making organisations depict transnational Afghan traders as Islamic militants or criminals. This caricature influences policy–makers and others negatively.

The research:  Four decades of militarised international intervention in Afghanistan led to the [former] Afghan Government emphasising the need for Afghan solutions to the problems facing the country. Magnus Marsden’s research demonstrates the commercial and diplomatic skills of Afghan traders and contributed to unfolding policy discussions with Afghan policy–makers, influential civil society actors and the country’s business communities.

Magnus has conducted research relating to Afghan traders for over twenty years. Since 2015 his research has explored the dynamics of the Chinese international trading city of Yiwu; a commercial hub to which traders from across the world travel in order to procure commodities for export. The conflict in Afghanistan made foreign markets desirable for Afghan traders and their presence in Yiwu linked them to markets in Central Asia, West Asia, Europe, and Australasia.

Over the course of repeat visits, Magnus Marsden built relationships with traders, documented their wide–ranging commercial activities and developed a layered analysis of the traders’ practices and the dynamics of the networks through which they operate. The research demonstrates that traders from diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds are skilled in building business relations across religious, ethnic and political divisions (e.g. between Sunni and Shi’i, Muslim and Hindu, Pashtun and Tajik), and recognise and valorise their ability to act flexibly, calling themselves ‘diplomats’. This recognition of the traders’ ‘informal diplomacy’ is a key reason why the [former] Afghan Government paid attention to this work.

The impact:  The research influenced the policies of the [former] Afghan Government, the EU and the UK Government and created recognition within civil society of the multi–faceted economic and diplomatic roles played by Afghan traders in Afghanistan.

In raising the profile and understanding of the role of traders in international diplomacy and the economy, the research enabled civil society networks in Afghanistan to lobby for better consular support and enabling policies for traders.  Alongside direct engagement with government officials this subsequently strengthened the government relationship with traders and their networks, leading to their needs and roles becoming recognised in national and international diplomatic strategy.

Magnus Marsden’s work played an active role in shaping policies of significance for Afghan traders in the context of the EUs strategy towards Central Asia and has been active in influencing UK Government policy affecting Afghan trading communities, particularly those from its religious minorities.

Through media, public and stakeholder engagement the research is also having a transformative effect on public perceptions of Afghan traders at home and abroad, including those held by the traders themselves. This enables collective action and facilitates improved dialogue between traders and policy–makers in multiple countries.

Professor Clionadh Raleigh The issue:  Lack of access to timely, accurate and quality evidence on incidents of violence and conflict worldwide can lead to under or mis–representation in journalism and to poorly evidenced strategy and policy for resource allocation within conflict–affected states.

The research:  Raleigh designed and implemented a state–of–the–art conflict measurement and collection system via the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data ( ACLED ) project. ACLED is a disaggregated data collection, analysis, and crisis mapping project that collects the dates, actors, types of violence, locations, and the number of fatalities of all reported political violence and protest events across the globe. Political violence and protests include events that occur within civil wars and periods of instability, public protest and regime breakdown. Through summarising, examining and testing conflict scenarios, ACLED’s data and analysis are made publicly available for use by a wide range of governments, development practitioners, media, academics and civil society. ACLED is a ‘living data project’ that integrates the best research to alter how, where and what conflict to capture. Raleigh continues to draw on the methodologies and findings of her academic work to direct, shape and lead ACLED’s approaches and outputs. This includes: improving geographical information; integrating political representation and levels into analysis of active conflict groups; and introducing ‘interaction’ codes to track how conflict agents engage with each other in specific events.

The impact:  Through its unique integration of cutting–edge conflict research – and its adaptive flexibility to accommodate emerging data, trends and areas of conflict – the ACLED data project facilitates diverse and meaningful use of Raleigh’s research by policy makers, practitioners and the media. ACLED is the most comprehensive, authoritative and independent database of conflict and violence, and thus the standard data resource for conflict reporting, mitigation, resolution and prevention. Evidence of its impact and use is widespread across governments, international institutions, media and practitioners.

ACLED data has been used to inform and support the decision–making capacity of governments and governmental bodies and by INGOs involved in crisis response and mitigation of conflicts and violence. These include: the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Austrian Red Cross, Darfur Women Action, Save the Children, Search for Common Ground, the World Bank, the Myanmar Development Institute, the Centre for Social Change, the International Institute for Strategic Studies, ACAPS and Action on Armed Violence.

The use of ACLED data by the media serves to ensure its insights reach both specialist audiences (including politicians and humanitarian organisations) and the broader public. In particular it opened new avenues to expose and respond to the growing conflict in the Sahel and the real cost of the war in Yemen.

Professor   Martin Todd ,  Professor   Dominic Kniveton ,  Dr  Pedram  Rowhani ,  Dr  Mohammed  Shamsudduha (UCL)

The issue:  Much of sub–Saharan Africa is extremely vulnerable to present and future climate shocks, which jeopardise development gains as it continues its rapid socio–economic transformation. Anticipating and preparing for tomorrow’s weather and the emerging climate changes is central to Africa’s sustainable and climate–resilient future.

The research:  Moving from reactive to anticipatory disaster risk management is a major challenge. Over the last 15 years Sussex research has addressed well–recognised barriers to effective anticipatory climate risk management, namely: the salience, credibility and legitimacy of weather/climate information; and the methods and capacities to use this inherently uncertain forecast information in decision–making.

The body of strongly interdisciplinary research includes fundamental science on how African climate/environment systems operate and their predictability over multiple timescales. And it has quantified climate impacts on resources and the interaction with societal processes. On this basis, Sussex researchers developed new weather/climate forecast and scenario products and novel approaches and tools for ‘decision–making under uncertainty’, that are applied in a wide range of risk management contexts.

This body of work emerged through taking a leading role in a series of major international research projects aimed at building climate resilience in Africa. In these projects, Sussex pioneered methods for interdisciplinary, participatory, and engaged research on ‘co–production’ in climate risk management. Their work brought together different stakeholders, knowledge and experiences to jointly co–produce new climate information that is better able to support specific decision–making contexts. These advances in co–production focussed on two decision–making time horizons: preparing for ‘near term’ weather/climate hazards and planning for the longer–term impacts of climate change.

The impact:  Sussex research has changed the way weather and climate forecast information is produced and used. This has resulted in forecasts and information on weather/climate risk that is useful, usable and used in practice by government agencies, national and international NGOs and populations at risk. This has supported a shift to anticipatory approaches, in both near–term disaster risk management and in planning long–term development investments across the nexus of water, energy and food production. Sussex research has changed operational practices and guiding policies for climate resilience in a range of contexts in Africa:

(i) Near–term disaster risk management. Sussex research has led to recognition across the Disaster Risk Management community that: “ mainstreaming the anticipatory approach… into national systems [is] the key to sustainably scaling up ”. Particularly in East Africa, a region identified as a ‘sweet spot’ of predictability, where new co–produced forecast products are being operationally produced and incorporated into risk management. This opens the door for a new approach of forecasts over continuous lead–times (from days to months) to support evolving preparedness action.

(ii) Long–term, climate–resilient development decisions. Sussex research projects have influenced policies and practices towards climate–resilient development, focussing on major development decisions across the Water–Energy–Food nexus and urban planning in contexts across Africa, and piloting the use of tools to support ‘decision–making under uncertainty’.

Professor David Ockwell The issue: Global climate technology policies and funding are widely viewed as having historically failed to meet the needs of low- and middle-income countries.

The research:  Facilitating the transfer of climate technologies (technologies that assist in mitigating or adapting to climate change, like low-carbon energy technologies, or drought-resistant farming technologies) to developing countries has been a core aim of global climate policy for the last three decades. It is, however, widely viewed to have failed in practice, benefiting only richer developing countries and international companies who supply technologies to them. Based on a combination of long-term empirical analyses in Sub-Saharan Africa, India and China and inter-disciplinary conceptual work, Sussex research has both demonstrated how climate technologies can be successfully transferred and/or developed, and designed a new policy approach that can make this happen. The key research insights that underpin this policy approach are: 1. Traditional climate technology policy only addresses two dimensions of the problem, namely technology and finance, reflected in a past dominance of engineering and economics in the climate technology and development literature. 2. The research highlighted the relevance of insights from the body of literature on national systems of innovation and applied this to show that where climate technologies are successfully transferred, it is due to long-term processes of building indigenous technological capabilities and strengthening the systemic contexts through which sustained uptake of new technologies can be nurtured. 3. Importantly, by combining a ‘national systems of innovation’ theory perspective with conceptual insights from the strategic niche management literature, the research demonstrated that the ‘national systems of innovation’ perspective needed to be extended to also attend to the social contexts within which new technologies are adopted, and the political impediments to new technology uptake.

The impact:  Building on collaborative work with partners in the Global South David Ockwell’s research (with Rob Byrne in SPRU, Sussex) led to a new policy approach - CRIBs (Climate Rel¬evant Innovation-system Builders) - which has had significant impacts on policy and funding at global, continental and national levels.

The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change’s (UNFCCC) Technology Executive Committee – the political body responsible for implementing climate technology policy under the UNFCCC and the Paris Climate Agreement – used the CRIBs approach to evaluate their existing climate technology policy and inform their agreed way forward to improving it. The Green Climate Fund (GCF - a £10.3 billion fund charged with making a significant and ambitious contribution to global efforts towards attaining the goals set by the international community in response to climate change) used the CRIBs approach to frame how they fund collaborative research and development – a key way in which the fund seeks to facilitate climate technology development and transfer. David Ockwell and Rob Byrnes CRIBs work was also used to inform a change in direction in the World Bank’s Climate Technology Programme.

In the light of difficulties African countries have had in leveraging international climate finance, the African Union (AU) recognised the CRIBs approach as an opportunity for African countries to improve access to GCF funding. They commissioned David Ockwell’s key research partners in Africa (the African Centre for Technology Studies, ACTS) to provide CRIBs training to 41 African and international climate policymakers from 18 different countries. As a result of the AU-commissioned CRIBs training, and two further focussed training and capacity-building programmes run by Sussex with ACTS, the policy approach is being implemented at a national level by 16 policy organisations from 9 different African Countries, framing national policy and practice, and underpinning proposals for GCF funding. To date, these GCF proposals have resulted in USD 9,994,500 of GCF funding being awarded to Burundi (leveraging USD 21,727,000 in match funding, with an estimated 573,500 beneficiaries). Kenya also had two proposals at advanced stages of GCF approval, worth a total of USD 20,000,000.

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Stephen Kemp

funding + impact

REF2021: 4* impact case studies

We all know there’s more to impact than REF impact case studies. However, they represent a lot of hard work and the new REF2021 database  of 6,781 impact case studies is so big and wide-ranging that it’s a major resource for anyone interested in research impact. A look at these impact case studies can help academics and research managers understand what impact may look like in a particular area, plan and articulate impact, scope relevant stakeholders and engagement strategies, and consider what evidence and indicators might be relevant when describing different kinds of impact.

The database can be searched and filtered in a number of ways but (beyond sitting with a spreadsheet of REF results) there is no easy way to pick out the highest scoring examples. That’s why many REF and impact managers in universities across the UK will be making lists of 4* impact case studies from REF2021. Here’s mine – click on the UoA of interest below and you’ll uncover links to the (publicly available) 4* impact case studies in that area. These are case studies that are unambiguously identifiable as scoring 4* – there are many other 4* examples but they are buried in submissions.

Of course, it is highly reductionist to focus on these 246 publicly available, identifiable 4* case studies – they represent less than 4% of the whole REF2021 impact case study database – but I know (from my own work with academics and research managers) that this list is a useful entry point to exploring the database more widely.

It’s worth noting that not every UoA had unambiguously identifiable 4* case studies. In case the UoA you are interested in doesn’t appear below, watch this space because I’ll be putting together an accompanying list of the top 5 impact submissions in every UoA .

I hope this all makes sense and helps you find some useful impact case study examples, whatever your area. Any issues, just leave a comment or get in touch !

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The REF 2021 Impact Case Studies (ICS) Are Published; Now We Must Aim For the SDGs 2030 Deadline

Jun 22, 2022 | Blog

REF TI Banner

Earlier today, the 6,781 Impact Case Studies (ICS) that had been submitted to the UK’s Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2021 were published by UKRI .

78.9% of these were deemed to be of 4* (world leading) or 3* (internationally excellent) quality, which is hugely positive news for UK research, and will have a bearing on the allocation of funding to institutions later in the year.

Impact Case Studies are increasingly important worldwide in demonstrating the social, economic, environmental, cultural and other impact of research. For instance, earlier in 2022, a database of 2,661 ICS from Polish universities and research institutions was published, while Australia remains conscious of the impending EI 2024 deadline once the ERA submission is completed in March 2023.

However, while the debate between the merits of formative and summative assessments continues to rage , the fact remains that REF 2021 has passed, yet impact is not stuck in time and will continue to evolve, both in forecasted and unforeseen ways.

One of the best ways to develop impact further is through research collaboration; but global collaboration is becoming increasingly difficult , which despite positive news around UKRI funding boosts  is further compounded for UK individuals and institutions by the ongoing situation with Horizon Europe .

And although the REF may be over, at least until its successor manifests in 2028 or thereabouts, a larger and more ominous shadow lingers – the UN’s 2030 target for its Sustainable Development Goals – and this is what we must address. The SDGs will only be achieved through working together, not just within academia but across multiple sectors, combining both local and international knowledge and skills to make genuine progress.

To respond to the challenges around global collaboration, which were exacerbated by the pandemic, we launched the   research collaboration platform last year to help support our clients and work towards a true worldwide impact community. enables users to publish evidence, identify impact areas through a progressive taxonomy that is evolving real-time based on global user input, clearly align their projects to the SDGs that they address, and attract international collaboration to help supercharge the impact of their projects.

And with the impact of the SDGs considered to be primarily discursive , and the world beset with worsening crises , the need for action is greater than ever.

Fortunately, many of the UK projects are built on the same Impact Case Studies as those that have received acclaim in the recent REF – so now we have an opportunity to accelerate the impact of this world-leading (or internationally excellent) work. The platform is not just limited to the UK, either, with users and projects spread across six continents, and numbers continuing to grow by the day. lets you follow those projects that matter most to you, to publish your own work into a truly global community, and also to identify and collaborate on those projects where you can add real value.

Let’s take a look at some examples of the institutions and their research projects that not only succeeded in REF 2021, but are also live on to support the continuing development of impact – and don’t forget you can sign up for free and get involved, or even publish your own projects to the international community!

Bath Spa University

Increasing Resilience in Remote Societies facing Interconnected Sustainable Development, Climate Change and Disaster Risk Challenges (India and Kiribati) SDGs 3, 4, 6, 10, 11, 13, 15 and 17

Get involved on TrackImpact:

Bath Spa TrackImpact

View REF case study .

Brunel University

Commercial use of research on motorcycle taxis in Kigali, Rwanda

SDGs 5, 8, 9, 11

TrackImpact Brunel

Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU)

Dry Your Eyes Princess: exploring sexual and gender diversity in the British Armed Forces

LJMU TrackImpact

University of Plymouth

Global Climate Impacts Assessments for Biodiversity: Developing New Tools and Shaping National and International Policy

SDGs 13 and 15

TrackImpact Plymouth

Staffordshire University

Addressing Inequalities through Creative, Place-Based Participatory Action

SDGs 10 and 11

Staffordshire University

Learn more about this project through our Impact in Action series:

REF Impact Dashboard

We are delighted to publish our REF Impact Dashboard – an interactive data visualisation of the REF 2021 case studies submitted by UK business schools.

The aim of our REF Impact Dashboard is to provide an overview of the breadth of the impact that has been achieved by UK business schools as catalogued by the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2021, to which 504 impact case studies were submitted.

In addition to ‘Impact type’, which was a dimension provided by the REF database, impact cases submitted to REF 2021 were categorised by our research team along with the dimensions of reach of impact, impact theme, and target stakeholders.

Alongside this, we included contextual information on the submitting institutions, including institution’s region, mission group, and relative size of the institution (based on number of impact cases submitted by the institution, which is in turn determined by REF requirements based on the number of research staff at the institution).

It is important to stress that of all the dimensions used in building the dashboard, the only one provided by the REF database is that of Impact type (Societal, Economic, Environmental, etc.), with the remainder determined by the Chartered ABS research team. The purposes of including the additional dimensions are as follows:

  • The impact theme dimension is intended to give users an idea of the type of impact achieved in the case study at a more granular level than that captured by the REF’s own ‘impact type’ dimension. Examples of some of the categories in this dimension include enhancing business practice, informing government policy, and capacity building.
  • Target stakeholders were identified from each case study, in order to provide an overview of the segments of society which were targeted for impact by UK business schools’ research. Examples of the categories in this dimension include government policy, public services, and SMEs.
  • The ‘reach of impact’ dimension aims to identify the geographic boundaries of the impact case study, and categorises submissions into either UK regional, UK-wide, UK and international, international only, and global impact. It is important to note that the downloadable REF database provides tags for many (but not all) of the case studies relating to country and UK regions. In some cases this may differ from our own categorisation.

The dashboard is interactive; users can click on a category to treat it as a filter for the other dimensions in the dashboard in order to focus in on case studies of interest. It is important to keep in mind that the dashboard is intended to give users an impression of the breadth of impact realised by UK business schools; the depth of this impact will be found in each individual case study and cannot be easily communicated through a dashboard due to the richness and complexity of the impact achieved by the 504 impact cases submitted to the REF under the Business and Management unit of assessment.

To download the dashboard please visit the Tableau page here

Dashboard 1 (2)

Source: REF Impact case study database, UKRI, 2022:

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Impact Case Studies

This section provides you with resources, tools and examples to support you to write your impact case studies

ref 2021 impact case study database

What are Impact Case Studies?

Impact case studies are evidence based stories about the difference your research has made to the world. They explain why the research was necessary, the journey your research has taken, and the difference (impact) your research has made i.e. they cover the what, where, when, who and how.

Impact case studies are useful ways of conveying, in engaging and compelling stories, complex areas of research. They can be used to tell your story on websites, as part of your CV, grant applications, impact awards as well as submission to assessment frameworks such as the Research Excellence Framework (REF).

Research Excellence Framework

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The Research Excellence Framework (REF) is the process of assessing the quality and impact of research within UK Higher Education Institutions.

This process enables UK funding bodies to benchmark and allocate funding to higher education institutions as well as provide accountability for their investments.

The first assessment process took place in 2014 and our most recent submission was in 2021 with results due in March 2022. For more information about REF 2021 please visit:

REF Impact Case Studies

As a part of the REF assessment process, higher education institutions are asked to prepare and write impact case studies for peer review. These impact case studies outline the changes and benefits that research has had on society, economy, public policy and practice, environment and quality of life. They are presented within a template, are up to 5 pages in length and undergo peer review by a panel of experts.

A full database of impact case studies from the previous exercise conducted in 2014 are available from Research England.

REF Impact Definitions

For REF 2021 “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”. ( Research England, REF 2021 )

Impact needs to show both:

  • Significance = the degree to which impact has enabled, enriched, influenced, informed or changed the performance, policies, practices, products, services, understanding, awareness or well-being of the beneficiaries.  
  • Reach = the extent and/or diversity of the beneficiaries of the impact, as relevant to the nature of the impact.

REF eligibility criteria

Your case study was eligible for submission to the Research Excellence Framework in 2021 if…

  • Your research was carried out between 1st January 2000 and 31 December 2020 at the University of Bath
  • Your impact occurred between 1 August 2013 and 31st July 2020 (this was extended to 31st December 2021 due to COVID-19)

The following are some top-tips to writing your Impact Case Study

  • Know your audience – it is important to be able to tell your story so that it is accessible and engaging to your intended audience
  • Articulate your impact and how it was achieved – start by setting out the context (why was this research important, what problem was it addressing), the difference you made (what did it change, who did it affect, influence, inform?) and how this was achieved. Think why, what, who, when, where and how.
  • Be specific as possible – give tangible and relatable examples, name countries, policies, organisations etc
  • Evidence your impact – provide evidence to support your claims and include quotes and extracts in your Impact Case Study so that it is accessible to the audience
  • Look at Examples – the REF 2014 Impact Case Study database provide a range of examples.

For more top tips Read our blog , visit our FAQ page for answers to your impact case study and REF related questions, or use our checklist to ensure your impact case study meets the key requirements.

Our writing retreats and writing sprints can help you to draft your Impact Case Study, check the training and development pages for up and coming workshops.

Below provides some examples of our research and the impact that they have achieved.

ref 2021 impact case study database

Addressing driver behaviour

Helping to create Ashwoods Lightfoot® and enable fleet managers to reduce the fuel costs and CO2 footprint from 2,500 vehicles

ref 2021 impact case study database

Creating fast, accurate tests for disease

Attaching electrochemical tags to DNA could allow GPs to diagnose and treat patients in just one visit.

ref 2021 impact case study database

Bio-banding – the search for tomorrow’s champions

The role of biobanding in improving the identification of future atheletes

For more examples of Research Excellence Framework (REF) impact case studies, visit the impact database for those submitted in the 2014 assessment exercise.

Recording your impact story

The University of Bath use PURE as their system for managing information about your research publications, projects, activities and impacts.

Ethics, Governance & Regulatory Compliance

Ethics, Governance & Regulatory Compliance

REF 2021 Impact Case Studies – Non-staff Privacy Notice

Ref2021 impact case studies – non-staff, your personal information.

The University of Lincoln collects personal information about you when you provide testimonials or other evidence to corroborate our impact claims for the Research Excellence Framework 2021 (REF 2021) review of publicly funded research activities. We will use this information as part of our submission to REF2021.

The purpose of REF 2021 is to assess the quality of UK research and to inform the selective distribution of public funds for research by the four UK higher education funding bodies. The REF outcomes are used to calculate about £2 billion per year of public funding for universities’ research, and affect their international reputations. The results also inform strategic decisions about national research priorities. The next REF will be undertaken in 2021.

The REF was first carried out in 2014, replacing the previous Research Assessment Exercise. It included for the first time an assessment of the broader impact of universities’ research beyond academia: on the economy, society, culture, public policy and services, health, the environment and quality of life – within the UK and internationally.

Impact is assessed through the submission of case studies, which describe the changes or benefits brought about by research undertaken by researchers at the institution. Impressive impacts were found across all disciplines, with 44 per cent of submissions judged to be outstanding. A database of case studies submitted in 2014 can be found here: .

This notice explains more about how we use your personal information.

What information we collect about you

How we use your information

Information we may share with other organisations

Information processed abroad

How long we keep your information

Accessing your information and other rights

How to object or withdraw consent

How to contact us

How to complain

We collect information about you when we ask for evidence or testimonials to support our claims of impact in Impact Case Studies.

The REF is managed by the REF team, based at Research England (RE), on behalf of the four UK higher education funding bodies. RE is part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), and under this arrangement UKRI has the role of ‘data controller’ for personal data submitted by us to the REF.

You may have provided information for one or more impact case studies or environment statements as part of our submission to the REF 2021. In 2020 we will send information about impact case studies and environment statements to UKRI for the purpose of the REF 2021. The information will not be in coded form and your name – and details such as your job title and organisational affiliation – may be provided in these narrative statements. We refer to this information about you as ‘your data’.

You can find further information about what data are being collected on the REF website, at in particular publication 2019/01, ‘Guidance on submissions’. Annex G of that document sets out the data that we will be required to share with UKRI.

Within the University of Lincoln, your data will be managed by the University’s REF team. Keep your details up to date by contacting the team you have worked with at the University of Lincoln, or failing that you can contact [email protected]

We collect information about you to substantiate our claims of societal impact resulting from research carried out at the University of Lincoln. We process this information on the lawful basis of public task, as we are carrying out our statutory power to carry out research and our responsibility to report back to the public authorities that fund our research.

Publishing information about your part in our submission

The results of the assessment exercise will be published by UKRI, on behalf of the four UK higher education funding bodies, in December 2021.

Those parts of submissions that contain factual data and textual information about research activity will also be published by UKRI, on behalf of the four UK higher education funding bodies, and will be made available online. Published information is likely to include textual information including impact case studies in which you may be referenced. Your name and job title may be included in this textual information. Other personal details will normally be removed.

The University occasionally uses cookies and other technologies on its website that collect data about you when you use them. Where this occurs further information will be available in a cookies policy. The cookies policy for the University website can be found here: .

We may share the following information with Research England, who oversee the REF review on behalf of the four UK higher education funding bodies: Research England , the Scottish Funding Council (SFC), the Higher Education Funding Council for

Wales (HEFCW), and the Department for the Economy, Northern Ireland (DfE).

UKRI and the organisations listed above will use the information to analyse and monitor the REF 2021. This may result in information being released to other users including academic researchers or consultants (commissioned by the funding bodies), to carry out research or analysis, in accordance with the Data Protection Act 2018 and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) (Regulation (EU) 2016/679). Where information not previously published is released to third parties, this will be anonymised where practicable.

UKRI will require that anyone who has access to your data, held in UKRI’s records, paper or electronic, will respect its confidentiality and will only process it in accordance with instructions issued for the purposes specified by UKRI.

Parts of your data will be passed to the REF expert panels and the Equality and Diversity Advisory Panel (whose members are independent of UKRI) for the purpose of conducting a systematic evaluation of submissions, in accordance with predetermined criteria and methods. All panel members are bound by confidentiality arrangements.

Contact details This would normally include name, title, role, work address, telephone number, email address. This information is shared to allow the review panels to contact you to audit our claims of impact and to check that you have supplied evidence as we claim. This information will not be made public and will only be accessed by review panels if they want to verify our claims. We are obliged to provide this information, but if you object to its use, we will not use your evidence as we would not be able to corroborate it. If you have concerns about any members of the review panel accessing this information due to conflicted interests, we can register this with the panels and prevent those individuals from having access. Testimonials or other documentation provided by you. We are required to submit evidence packs consisting of testimonials or other documentation which have been provided by you, and may therefore include personal information about you, your employees or other individuals, which may be used by the review panels to corroborate our impact claims. These will not be made public and will be viewed only by the review panels if they want to verify our claims. If you have concerns about any members of the review panel accessing this information due to conflicted interests, we can register this with the panels and prevent those individuals from having access. Personal information within the body of the case study narrative If there is any personal information about you or other individuals as provided by you, we can redact this information from the case study before it is published publicly. However, we are obliged to provide an unredacted version for review, which will not be published. If you have concerns about any members of the review panel accessing this information due to conflicted interests, we can register this with the panels and prevent those individuals from having access.

We use a number of suppliers who process personal information on our behalf. These include suppliers of software services. These act strictly on our instructions and must not use the information for their own purposes.

In exceptional circumstances we may be asked to share your information with police or other investigators if it would prevent or detect crime or safeguard a person’s wellbeing. Each instance will be judged on its own merit and any sharing of information will be done within the law.

Your information will not be shared abroad. Some of the suppliers who process personal information on our behalf, including software service providers, will process abroad, but this processing will be carried out with protection as required by the relevant Data Protection legislation, including the use of Standard Contractual Clauses and Privacy Shield where relevant.

We will keep your contact details and corroborating evidence for no longer than one year after the results of REF2021 are published (scheduled to be April 2022, but may be subject to adjustment). Should you wish us to have your contact details or personal information within the corroborating evidence removed sooner, please contact us at [email protected]

If you access additional University services these may keep a record of your contact and will provide you with details of how long they keep your information.

You have a number of rights relating to your personal information. These include:

Access You have the right to request a copy of any personal information we hold about you. If you would like a copy of any of your information please contact the Information Compliance team on the details below. The team will process your request within a month. Portability If you have provided information on the basis of your consent or for a contract then you can request a digital copy so you can send it to another organisation. To request a copy please contact the Information Compliance team on the details below. The team will process your request within a month. Correction If any of the information we hold about you is incorrect or incomplete then please let us know. You have the right to have your information corrected so that we hold accurate records about you. Erasure This is also known as the right to be forgotten. You can request that your personal information is erased if it is no longer necessary for the University to keep it, or you withdraw consent that you have previously provided, or you object and there is no overriding grounds to keep it or if it is unlawful to continue to keep it. Restriction You can request that the use of your personal information is limited to storage only and that we use it for no other purpose. This applies where you contest the accuracy of the personal information we hold, or our use of the information is unlawful, or we no longer need the information except in relation to legal claims, or you object to the use of your data and we need to verify whether or not our purpose for keeping it overrides the grounds of your objection.

The Information Compliance team can be contacted by email on [email protected] or by post at: Information Compliance, Secretariat, University of Lincoln, Brayford Pool, Lincoln, LN6 7TS.

If you object to our use of your personal information then we must stop unless we can demonstrate compelling legitimate grounds for continuing. Please contact the REF team using [email protected] and explain your objection.

If you have provided your consent for the use of your personal information then you can withdraw this consent at any time. To do this, contact the REF team using [email protected] .

For general enquiries please call 01522 88 2000 or write to University of Lincoln, Brayford Pool, Lincoln, LN6 7TS.

You can find contact details for individual teams and staff by visiting .

If you have a query about your personal information rights then please contact the Information Compliance team by email on [email protected] or by post at Information Compliance, Secretariat, University of Lincoln, Brayford Pool, Lincoln, LN6 7TS.

If you feel that, we have let you down in relation to your information rights then please contact the Information Compliance team by email on [email protected] or by post at Information Compliance, Secretariat, University of Lincoln, Brayford Pool, Lincoln, LN6 7TS.

You can also make complaints directly to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO). The ICO is the independent authority upholding information rights for the UK. Their website is and their telephone helpline number is 0303 123 1113.

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ref 2021 impact case study database

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  • Mar 9, 2020
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Everything you need to know about the final REF2021 guidance on impact in less than a minute

Updated: Apr 15, 2020

In this guide I will summarise all the key things you need to know about the submission of im

ref2021 impact case study database

pact case studies in REF2021, and provide a few strategic pointers based on my experience advising teams across the sector who are preparing their case studies. For the full guidance on the submission of impact case studies to REF2021 see pages 68-76 of the Guidance on Submissions and do a keyword search for “impact” to find any specific guidance for your Main Panel or Unit of Assessment in the Panel Criteria and Working Methods . Here, I will focus on what is new in the final guidance.

If you’re short on time, here are the six most important and interesting things that have changed or been confirmed in the new guidance:

Panel A has changed its tune on its preference for new case studies and quantitative evidence, saying they will assess continuation case studies on merit alongside new ones, and accepting qualitative evidence without pre-judgement

A researcher’s outputs and impact can be submitted to different UoAs (but the submitting UoA will have to explain how the guest case study “relates” to their approach to generating impact in the unit)

New definition of a continuation case study has 1) no significant new research underpinning the impacts, AND 2) the impacts and beneficiaries are similar to those in 2014

Confirmed: impacts underpinned by research from different Universities or different units within the same University can submit identical descriptions of impact as long as they explains how the submitting unit “made a distinct and material contribution to the impact”

Case studies based on research by large teams within an institution will have to list all names, roles and dates within the 5 page limit, reducing space for gradable material

There is limited new guidance on public engagement, but it is clear that engagement is a pathway and not an impact, and the case study must still show engagement was "at least in part, based on the submitted unit’s research and drew materially and distinctly upon it”.

Everything else you need to know about impact in the new REF2021 guidance (if you've got more than a minute)

Evidence of impact

Main Panel A has climbed down from its preference for quantitative evidence of impacts. The guidance now clearly states that “the panels anticipate that impact case studies will refer to a wide range of types of evidence, including qualitative, quantitative and tangible or material evidence, as appropriate. Individual case studies may draw on a variety of forms of evidence and indicators. The panels do not wish to pre-judge forms of evidence… and no type of evidence is inherently preferred over another.”

In keeping with REF2014, public engagement case studies “must show that the engagement activity was, at least in part, based on the submitted unit’s research and drew materially and distinctly upon it”. The definition of underpinning research in REF2021 is "a body of work produced over a number of years or may be the output(s) of a particular project. It may be produced by one or more individuals" which must "include references to one or more key research outputs". This means that groups who created a large body of work could describe this wider body in the underpinning research section with examples of key outputs to illustrate in the list of outputs (the guidance says, "each case study must include references to one or more research outputs that best illustrate the research underpinning the impact"). Although the new definition of underpinning research is less tightly linked to outputs (for contrast, in REF2014, it was "research embodied in one or more outputs conducted by one or more individuals, teams or groups, within one or more submitted units), there is no indication that this body of work could include work by researchers beyond the submitting unit, which means that public engagement case studies that draw widely from across their discipline may still struggle to demonstrate that their impacts drew "materially and distinctly" on the submitted unit's research

Advisory roles that generate impact can only be submitted if the role or advice given “was at least in part based on the submitted unit’s research and drew materially and distinctly upon it”

Certain quantitative evidence of impact should be standardised based on guidance published by Research England last year (this is to make data more discoverable, comparable and synthesisable for post-hoc analysis). The guidance is fairly straightforward to implement, either by case study authors or by institutional teams prior to submission. This is a recommendation rather than a stipulation and there is no indication that scores would be compromised for case studies not following this guidance

We have similar options for non-publication or redaction of confidential case studies as REF2014, with the option for the submitting unit or sub-panel chair to identify individual panel members who should (based on national security vetting clearance) or should not (based on confidentiality, sensitivity or conflicts of interest) be given access to case study material. Redacted versions will need to be submitted by January 2021 and requests to restrict access to panel members will need to be made by the end of this year

You can submit corroborating evidence in any language. People who provide testimonials should be referred to by organisation/role (anonymously) with names entered separately in a different part of the submission system

Although testimonials must be statements of fact (evidence-based), it is acknowledge that statements of opinion are valid in some circumstances. We will have to say if the person giving the testimonial was part of the process of impact delivery (and presumably may in some cases have a conflict of interests) or is a “reporter” on the process

You can submit up to 10 testimonials and you can submit contact details for up to 5 of these to be contacted to corroborate evidence in your case study (if you want to include more than 10 testimonials, see my latest REF2021 intelligence

Although eligible, the panel criteria and working methods make it clear that pedagogical impacts based only on the submitting institution are unlikely to score well (paragraph 302, panel criteria and working methods)

Submission process:

A researcher’s outputs and impact can be submitted to different UoAs, either to the same UoA as they submit their outputs or to another UoA as long as the research underpinning the case study fits within the scope of the other UoA. However, the UoA submitting the case study will have to “describe how the selected case studies relate to their approach to achieving impact” in their environment statement

If a submission includes fewer than the required number of case studies, a grade of unclassified will be awarded to each required case study that is not submitted

For impacts underpinned by research from different Universities or different units within the same University, it is possible to submit identical descriptions of impact as long as the underpinning research section explains how the submitting unit “made a distinct and material contribution to the impact”

Names, roles and periods of service for researchers have to be given in the template, reducing the space available for graded material for case studies based on research by large institutional teams. The rest of the meta-data is additional to the five page limit. This includes details of research funding, despite the fact that this is listed under the “references to the research” section in the case study template. To save room for material that is more likely to contribute towards high scores, it would be unwise to submit funding data twice, but bear in mind that funding that only appears in the additional meta-data will not routinely be given to panels, so if funding was from prestigious sources, this would need to be mentioned in the narrative justifying the quality of the underpinning research to ensure panellists are aware of this

Continuation case studies:

A continuation case study is now defined as a case study that has 1) no significant new research underpinning the impacts, and 2) the impacts and beneficiaries are similar to those in 2014

- Crucially, to be considered a continuation case study, it must meet both criteria (no significant new research and similar impacts and beneficiaries)

- This means that case studies based on the same body of research as REF2014 are not considered continuations if they have generated new types of impacts for new beneficiaries. Similarly, case studies that generate similar impacts for similar beneficiaries to those claimed in REF2014 are only considered continuations if they are based on the same original underpinning research

- Those in Panel A who may wish to claim that their case is not a continuation from REF2014 (based on preferences against this expressed by Main Panel A in the consultation) will not simply be able to substitute or add new outputs to the underpinning research section. Instead they will need to argue that these new outputs represent “new research [has] taken place since the previous case study that has made a distinct and material contribution to the impact”, and show that there are significant new impacts and beneficiaries based on this new research in the REF2021 case study

Main Panel A have climbed down from their desire in the consultation to “encourage the submission of new case studies” with continuation case studies to be “considered”. In the final guidance, Main Panel A will “assess each case study on merit and wishes to receive information on how any continued case study relates to that submitted in REF 2014”. This is now consistent with the main guidance across all panels, encouraging “submitting units to submit their strongest case studies irrespective of whether they are new examples or represent continuing impact from those submitted in REF 2014”. However, the bias remains clear and it would be worth considering how case studies in this panel can legitimately avoid the continuation category (see options above)

The other panels do not want to receive information on how continuation case studies relate to those submitted in REF2014. The wording is strong here, saying that if this information is provided then it will not be taken into account. If your case study does not make sense without contextual information that overlaps with your REF2014 case study, it will be important not to explicitly link this to REF2014 and identify it clearly as a pathway rather than claimed impact

Underpinning research:

Underpinning research may be a body of research from an individual or group over many years (since 2000) but they must all be written or co-authored by researchers from the submitting institution. Research by PhD students will have to be co-authored by eligible staff to be included in underpinning research

In keeping with REF2014, underpinning research has to have been conducted at the submitting institution, but there is no longer a stipulation that the work must be published while the staff are at the institution. This means that in theory a member of staff could conduct research that underpins impact at your institution, and as long as you can prove the research was conducted (and presumably completed) at your institution, you should be able to claim the impact, even if they don't publish it till they are at their new institution and don't include your affiliation in the published work

We should “provide evidence of the quality of [underpinning] research”. Examples of such evidence are only provided by Panels C and D, but many will apply to A and B, and include: evidence of rigorous peer-review process for outputs; peer-reviewed funding; reviews of outputs from authoritative sources; prizes or awards made to individual research outputs; evidence that an output is an important reference point for further research beyond the original institution. We are told not to include citation data (where relevant the panels will be given this separately) or journal impact factors for outputs so I would be reluctant to use these indicators here. In some disciplines biases based on publication venue are strong enough that it is still worth prioritising prestigious outputs where there is a choice between two outputs that describe the same finding, but this should not be explicitly drawn attention to. I am collecting additional ideas for indicators in my latest REF intelligence blog if you want more inspiration.

It is not enough to just have one key output at 2* or above, as “a panel will grade a case study as unclassified if it judges that the underpinning research as a whole was not of at least two-star quality”. Although the panel criteria and working methods state clearly that not every output has to meet this threshold, it may be safer to focus on a single (or small number) or safe outputs rather than filling up output slots with research of questionable quality in case this undermines the case that the “research as a whole was of at least 2* quality”. However if only one output is deemed to be of 2* quality, this may be acceptable if it "is a key output underpinning the impact", as "this will normally be sufficient to demonstrate that the underpinning research as a whole meets the quality threshold" according to FAQs released on 29th August 2019

The case study template asks for a description of the research findings (under “underpinning research”) separately from a justification of research quality (under “references to the research”)

In your list of “references to the research”, you should note if the output has also been submitted as a REF output. Outputs without a DOI that are not in the public domain can be used as underpinning research as long as they can be made available to the panel

Impact strategy:

There is little guidance on how to describe impact strategy in the “environment” statement. At the institutional level it may include “integrity, open research, considerations of equality and diversity, and structures to support interdisciplinary research, where applicable in the assessment period and for the next five-year period”. At the UoA level, the guidance is even more vague, suggesting it covers “how the unit has sought to enable and/or facilitate the achievement of impact arising from their research and how they are shaping and adapting their plans to ensure that they continue to support the vitality and sustainability of the unit’s impact in the future”. Later, it suggests we may describe “how the unit recognises and rewards staff for carrying out research and for achieving impact”

Descriptions of impact aren’t limited to case studies. In the environment statement we can describe “wider contributions to the economy and society, including evidence of the wider activities and impact of research carried out in the unit that is not captured in the impact case studies”

Under staffing strategy and staff development in the environment statement, we can describe policies for impact leave as well as traditional sabbaticals (it would be interesting to know how many Universities have such policies)

This blog is my interpretation of the guidance, and I have been known to be wrong, so please contact me if you disagree with anything I've written, or think I've missed something important, and I will keep updating this blog as I learn more from you all.

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REF2021 related:

Latest REF intelligence (blog)

Has the bar been raised for REF2021? (blog)

What made a 4* impact case study in REF2014? (blog)

All the 4* case studies from REF2014 in one place (webpage)

Research into REF evaluator behaviour offers three key pieces of advice for REF2021 (blog)

REF impact case studies – are single researcher or group submissions better? (blog)

How to move your REF impact case study to a new institution (blog)

How to create a positive research impact culture in your group (podcast)

Everything you need to know about research impact in the Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF) consultation (blog)

Weave a story through your REF Impact Case Study – 3 tips from a professional writer (blog)

Does REF create a conflict of interest for researchers who are submitting impacts? (blog)

How to design a whole institution REF impact internal review: lessons from Northumbria University (blog)

How much was an impact case study worth in REF2014? (blog)

Evidencing impact:

What is impact? My two super-clear definitions and new check-list (podcast)

Creative ways to evidence your impact (podcast)

The Public Engagement Evaluation Toolkit (toolkit)

Getting testimonials to corroborate the impact of your research (blog)

How to get commercially sensitive data to evidence economic impacts from research (blog)

Learning about impact from your teaching and evaluating pedagogical impacts (podcast)

Doing public engagement for impact (podcast)

Get longitudinal impact data with a postcard to your future self (blog)

How could I get impact from a video about my research? (blog)

How to evidence policy impacts (blog)

How can your research have more impact? New research provides 5 key principles and practical tips (blog)

Find out  how to write a winning impact summary and pathway to impact and explore ou r best practice library of pathways to impact .

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