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We help universities engage with the public

REF 2014

REF 2014: taking stock

In May 2014 we ran a consultation to feed into HEFCE’s informal review of the Research Excellence Framework (REF), focussing on the ways in which public engagement (PE) had featured in the different universities’ submissions.  Our report includes a number of specific recommendations, and concluded:

The impact assessment process was widely acknowledged to be a very time consuming and challenging activity, but with a number of positive outcomes:

  • The REF has formalised the need for good planning, evaluation and evidence gathering within Units of Assessment (UoAs) and Higher Education Institutions (HEIs)
  • It has encouraged a view of PE as core business not just ‘good intentions’
  • It has given PE a ‘harder edge’ in terms of its financial and strategic value to the institution
  • It has created more demand and interest from academics for help and support to develop good PE - many of whom were previously unaware or uninterested
  • It has helped make the case for PE to be effectively resourced and supported
  • It has opened up opportunities for greater dialogue with outside partners
  • PE is now regarded as an essential part of research, although for some PE is restricted to that which leads to REF-relevant impact – rather than more broadly defined outcomes
  • It has encouraged staff actively to seek opportunities to share research findings with the wider public

It has also had some negative consequences:

  • Some partners / collaborators have been overwhelmed by the sector’s demands for evidence of impact and have felt ‘used’
  • It has encouraged an instrumental attitude from some – doing PE for ‘selfish’ reasons rather than to achieve genuine mutual benefit
  • There is a risk that all PE becomes focused on the REF / impact, meaning that other valuable forms of engagement won’t be  supported or valued
  • The friction and negativity associated with the REF has tarnished engagement in some people’s eyes
  • Some feel that valuable time which should be spent on innovation is now being spent on auditing.

On balance, the feedback suggested the positives significantly outweighed the negatives.

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