Has the REF helped to embed support for public engagement?

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As universities await the conclusions of the REF 2014 assessment exercise, the NCCPE having been considering the impact of  the REF on public engagement, and whether this has been a positive or a negative thing.

In our recent web poll of 181 people, 70 people said that the REF had helped embed strategic support for public engagement in their institution, with a further 48 saying it had partially done this. So on the face of it, it seems that the REF has helped the NCCPE in its mission to embed public engagement into universities and research institutions. However what does this mean?

In May the NCCPE hosted an event to explore this in more detail. What we found was quite encouraging, with delegates commenting on a number of positive outcomes for public engagement including giving public engagement a ‘harder edge’ in terms of its strategic value to the institution, rather than being dispensable, a ‘nice to have’. Delegates had seen an increase of demand from academics wanting to develop more effective engagement, often academics who had not expressed an interest before. Increasingly public engagement is regarded as an essential part of research.

The picture wasn’t all good however. In our poll, 63 people said that the REF has not had an impact on embedding strategic support for engagement with their institution. Also, delegates at our event noted a range of challenges including the impact on the good will of research partners, who were overwhelmed by the demand for evidence of impact; concerns that more instrumental approaches to engagement for REF-able outcomes took academics away from developing more mutually beneficial relationships with their partners, and other important forms of public engagement; and that time invested in auditing could potentially have been more usefully used to innovate. If you want to find out more you can read the full report of the event here.

As more universities invest in people to support research with impact, what is clear is that when the REF results come out, we will have a clearer understanding of how the panels have viewed the impact case studies, and how engagement has fared as a route to impact.

We would be interested in hearing people’s views on the impact of the REF on strategic support for public engagement:

  • How has it changed how your research group approaches engagement?
  • How has the REF affected investment in public engagement activity that does not lead to REF-able outcomes?
  • Who has benefitted from the REF, and how have they benefitted?
  • What have been the costs and benefits to public engagement?

Please share your comments below. We will be picking up this discussion in more depth at Engage 2014 where we are hosting a seminar all about the REF, so look out for that when planning your visit.

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