Making science work for development

What does the REF tell us about development impact?

27 April 2015

The Research Excellence Framework 2014 is now a fading memory in the minds of many researchers and research managers, with the results having been published in December 2014. However, UKCDS is exploring what more can be learnt from the REF, especially what it tells us about UK research for international development.

Every year the UK Higher Education Funding Councils distribute about £2 billion of funding to support research at UK universities. This isn’t given out equally, but instead allocated based on an institution’s level of research quality. This is calculated every few years via a national research assessment. The Research Excellence Framework (REF) was the latest iteration of these assessments.

For the first time ever, the REF included research impact as a category in its evaluations. This decision initially proved controversial amongst UK academia (although many now feel it was a success), as researchers were required to write impact case studies. These case studies were 1000 word-long accounts of how a particular piece of research led to an impact on society or the economy.

Almost 7000 impact case studies were submitted by 154 UK universities, in a submission process calculated to cost UK universities a total of £55 million. An analysis by King’s College London found that 275 case studies are relevant to international development. All the case studies are now available in an online database.

Given the time and resources that went into the management, submission and assessment stages of the REF, we want to make the most of this mass of data on UK research. We’re planning a set of activities around the case studies related to international development in order to achieve two main goals:

1. Raised awareness of the value and excellence of UK development research

We’ll be selecting and promoting some of the best case studies which show UK research having an impact on international development. We will re-package these impact stories so that they might help inform upcoming funding and policy decisions, as well as profile UK research on a wider stage.

2. Increased understanding of the UK research landscape and its contribution to international development

By looking across the case studies in a qualitative analysis, we hope to answer some basic questions around the “who, what, where” of research for development. The findings of this analysis will be heavily caveated – as the REF case studies are not a representative sample of all UK research – but we hope to draw out some interesting patterns of how UK research contributes to achieving global development outcomes.

We’ll keep you updated as this work progresses, but for more information now please get in touch with a [dot] gwytheratukcds [dot] org [dot] uk (Alex Gwyther)

  • Research uptake and impact
  • Alex Gwyther

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