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REF Workshop 2009


At the invitation of the NCCPE, 30 staff from a range of universities and funding bodies gathered in Bristol in November 2009 to consider the REF consultation in detail.

The workshop aimed to:

  • Allow participants to pool their insights and expertise, to inform their different institution’s responses to the REF consultation;
  • Analyse how to maximise the opportunities afforded by the REF proposals for the strategic embedding of public engagement in HEIs;

Outputs from REF workshop

Participants warmly welcomed the inclusion of impact and public engagement in the assessment of research excellence. They agreed that the proposals could make a major contribution to the embedding of PE in HEIs and research institutes. They applauded the definition of research as ‘a process of investigation that has led to new insights effectively shared’, in particular the emphasis on sharing. However, a number of issues were raised during the course of the workshop, and possible solutions explored.

One issue concerned the way that the proposals have framed the relationship between research and impact. It is easy to interpret the proposals as implying that research is a ‘magic bullet’ that is applied to society to deliver impact, in a linear and one-way fashion. Partly as a result of this, the proposals have been dismissed by many in the sector as instrumental, as an assault on academic freedom and the value of ‘curiosity driven’ research, and an attempt by the government to exert undue influence on the direction of research. Participants were concerned that this backlash might undermine the foothold that public engagement has established in many HEIs and research institutes. They explored how the proposals might be re-framed, and how they might be communicated in a way that the sector found more acceptable.

In exploring how these issues might be addressed, participants explored the following ideas:

  • Re-framing the relationship between research and society using the metaphor of an eco-system or complex network, rather than a production line
  • Positioning engagement as the process through which ‘outputs’ are translated into ‘impacts’
  • Placing greater emphasis on the assessment of these engagement processes, and less on the attempt to measure specific impacts

You can read the event report, and a compilation of press articles below.