Authors : Ohid Yaqub, Dmitry Malkov, Josh Siepel
Although ex post evaluation of impact is increasingly common, the extent to which research impacts emerge largely as anticipated by researchers, or as the result of serendipitous and unpredictable processes, is not well understood.
In this article, we explore whether predictions of impact made at the funding stage align with realized impact, using data from the UK’s Research Excellence Framework (REF). We exploit REF impact cases traced back to research funding applications, as a dataset of 2,194 case–grant pairs, to compare impact topics with funder remits.
For 209 of those pairs, we directly compare their descriptions of ex ante and ex post impact. We find that impact claims in these case–grant pairs are often congruent with each other, with 76% showing alignment between anticipated impact at funding stage and the eventual claimed impact in the REF. Co-production of research, often perceived as a model for impactful research, was a feature of just over half of our cases.
Our results show that, contrary to other preliminary studies of the REF, impact appears to be broadly predictable, although unpredictability remains important. We suggest that co-production is a reasonably good mechanism for addressing the balance of predictable and unpredictable impact outcomes.