In 2010, the Higher Education Funding Council conducted a pilot exercise which aimed to test the feasibility of both assessing the social and economic impact of academic research and using this assessment to evaluate researchers and research institutions across the UK.  The key points from the executive summary of the exercise are as follows:

In the REF there will be an explicit element to assess the ‘impact’ arising from excellent research, alongside the ‘outputs’ and ‘environment’ elements.

The assessment of impact will be based on expert review of case studies submitted by higher education institutions. Case studies may include any social, economic or cultural impact or benefit beyond academia that has taken place during the assessment period, and was underpinned by excellent research produced by the submitting institution within a given timeframe. Submissions will also include information about how the unit has supported and enabled impact during the assessment period.

A weighting of 25 per cent for impact would give due recognition to the economic and social benefits of excellent research. However, given that the impact assessment in the 2014 REF will still be developmental, the weighting of impact in the first exercise will be reduced to 20 per cent, with the intention of increasing this in subsequent exercises.

The assessment of research outputs will account for 65 per cent, and environment will account for 15 per cent, of the overall assessment outcomes in the 2014 REF. These weightings will apply to all units of assessment.

Put simply: The category of “impact” will play a new role in assessing research quality and assigning resources to universities in the UK.  Researchers have been asked to think creatively about impact, to create impacts, to show impacts, to make impact and make it visible.

But: what is impact?  And what does this word mean for the Humanities, where impacts might be invisible or economically unsound? Continue reading