Impact for REF

Impact has been considered a beneficial addition to the REF and will be part of the REF2021 assessment.

Impact and the REF

Impact was introduced to the REF as a means to assess the effect on, change or benefit from research beyond academia. Impact has been considered a beneficial addition to the REF and will be part of the REF2021 assessment.

Demonstrating the effect of research on the economy and wider society has had many positive uses beyond obtaining QR funding.  Ulster's Department for Research and Impact hope to develop new webpages dedicated to cultivating and capturing impact, this page focuses on providing some helpful information on impact case studies for the REF.

What is a REF impact case study?

A REF Impact case study is a narrative which describes how research, conducted during a specific time-frame at a named institution, resulted in a change, had an effect on or benefited culture, the economy, the environment, health, public policy, quality of life or society using qualitative and quantitative evidence. The REF2021 impact case study template is a five-page document which had five sections.

  1. Summary of the impact
  2. A description of the underpinning research
  3. References to the research
  4. Details of the impact
  5. Sources to corroborate the impact

How can excellence in generating impacts from engaging the public with research best be evidenced in a case-study?

Excellent case studies typically article the following ‘links in the chain’ (Duncan and Manners, 2017)

  1. What? A convincing account of the significance of the research: why it matters beyond academia. Who should care about it? What is distinctive about its potential?
  2. Where? An explicit, intelligent acknowledgement of the external context, and a clear grasp of the potential contribution of the research to influence thinking, practice and people’s capabilities beyond academia.
  3. Who with? A clear articulation of the key publics and partners involved and a rationale for their involvement, with clear insight and knowledge about their interests, motivations and needs in relation to the research
  4. Why? A confident sense of purpose animating the engagement that underpins the impact claimed
  5. When? An intelligent sense of timing to maximise the potential impact of the engagement activity, with activities differentiated by the phase of the research
  6. How? Drawing on appropriate methods, tailored to purpose, context and the publics they are seeking to engage
  7. With what impact? A convincing account of the difference it has helped to generate, and credible claims for the contribution made by the research to that impact.

REF 2021 Guidance - Impact Summaries:

  • A summary of the impact elements of the REF2021 confirmed guidance can be found here
  • A summary of the Guidance for Standardising Quantitative Indicators of Impact within REF Case Studies can be found here.

Download REF 2021 Impact Case Study Template

The latest version of the REF 2021 Impact Case Study template can be found here.

Further guidance published by REF can be found here.

Examples of 4* Ulster REF 2014 impact case studies

Unit 20 Law

Unit 3a Allied Health Professions, Dentistry, Nursing and Pharmacy – Nursing and Health Science

Unit 35 Music, Drama, Dance and Performing Arts

Unit 3b Allied Health Professions, Dentistry, Nursing and Pharmacy – Biomedical Sciences

More 4* REF 2014 case studies can be found at