How unpredictable is research impact? Evidence from the UK’s Research Excellence Framework

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.

URL : How unpredictable is research impact? Evidence from the UK’s Research Excellence Framework


Research impact evaluation and academic discourse

Author : Marta Natalia Wróblewska

The introduction of ‘impact’ as an element of assessment constitutes a major change in the construction of research evaluation systems. While various protocols of impact evaluation exist, the most articulated one was implemented as part of the British Research Excellence Framework (REF).

This paper investigates the nature and consequences of the rise of ‘research impact’ as an element of academic evaluation from the perspective of discourse. Drawing from linguistic pragmatics and Foucauldian discourse analysis, the study discusses shifts related to the so-called Impact Agenda on four stages, in chronological order: (1) the ‘problematization’ of the notion of ‘impact’, (2) the establishment of an ‘impact infrastructure’, (3) the consolidation of a new genre of writing–impact case study, and (4) academics’ positioning practices towards the notion of ‘impact’, theorized here as the triggering of new practices of ‘subjectivation’ of the academic self.

The description of the basic functioning of the ‘discourse of impact’ is based on the analysis of two corpora: case studies submitted by a selected group of academics (linguists) to REF2014 (no = 78) and interviews (n = 25) with their authors.

Linguistic pragmatics is particularly useful in analyzing linguistic aspects of the data, while Foucault’s theory helps draw together findings from two datasets in a broader analysis based on a governmentality framework. This approach allows for more general conclusions on the practices of governing (academic) subjects within evaluation contexts.

URL : Research impact evaluation and academic discourse