The NCCPE has submitted its response to the consultation on the future of the REF, which closed on Friday 17th March.
The response, which can be accessed here, is supportive of the overall thrust of the consultation, and makes recommendations about how guidance on public engagement might be improved. It draws on our extensive review of how public engagement fared in REF 2014, and has been informed by wide-ranging consultation with people working inside and outside HE.
While we agree with the intention to maintain continuity of approach with REF 2014, we argue for significant changes in three areas:
Broadening the definition of impact and underpinning research
It is helpful to frame the REF as assessing excellent research (judged by the quality of the research outputs) and excellent societal engagement (judged by the reach and significance of the impact achieved, and the rigour of the engagement undertaken).
- We recommend that the assessment of the ‘rigour’ of the engagement undertaken be added to the assessment of the ‘reach and significance’
- We recommend that the definitions of ‘underpinning research’ and ‘impact’ are developed, to encourage more engagement earlier in the research cycle and to better recognise the value that engagement brings to the research
Increasing the involvement of external 'stakeholders' in the process of developing and delivering REF 2021
The REF is currently framed as a process managed by and for the HE sector, with some limited involvement of ‘research users’. We argue for a more ambitious framing of the next REF, as a more open conversation with wider society about the value of research. We identify two areas where a more open approach should be explored:
- Opening up the development of impact criteria to greater external input, through a more active approach to consultation and engagement
- Reviewing the process of recruitment of panel members, to address ambiguity in the roles of ‘research users’ as representative or otherwise of their communities
Drawing more purposefully on the extensive literature about engagement and impact to develop a more robust and critical approach to impact in REF 2021
There is a wealth of theoretical and practical literature exploring the challenges of impact assessment and evaluation, both within the HE sector and beyond. We would like to see:
- A concerted effort to increase the sophistication of our collective understanding of knowledge exchange, engagement and impact, and of how impact can be evidenced
- Robust debate and professional development to encourage an intelligent, reflective and critical approach to impact, engagement and evaluation, so that the process doesn’t stagnate into a ‘box ticking’ exercise
- Efforts being made to better align the HE REF impact criteria with outcome frameworks being used in other sectors (for instance the Generic Learning Outcomes, used in the museums and library sectors)