What about the REF and the KEF?

What about the REF?

Research impact was first introduced as an assessment component of the 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF). At that point, it accounted for 20% of an institution’s overall score; in the next REF in 2021 it will be worth 25% of the total score.

REF impact is assessed primarily through the submission of short (4-page) impact case studies (ICSs) describing the demonstrable effects, changes or benefits arising from research conducted within the submitting institution. The research may date back up to 20 years but the impacts described should have been fully realised within the period since the last assessment: in the REF2021, this will mean that impact should have been felt between August 2013 and July 2020. For REF purposes, impact claims must also be able to be corroborated by the provision of independent third-party evidence.

Not all knowledge exchange and public engagement activities will deliver measurable impacts of the type required by the REF. Others will generate these sorts of impacts but may still not, for technical reasons, be eligible for inclusion in a REF ICS. This work is still worth doing because of the benefits it provides to researchers, participants, and audiences or users of the research on which they’re based. They may also lay the foundations for case studies suitable for future REF submissions. There is, in addition, a requirement for REF submissions to include information about the ‘impact environment’ in a department or centre, and across the institution. Do let the KEI Integrated Service, your Head of Department or REF Coordinator know about any impacts arising from your KE activities; even if they are ineligible or not yet sufficiently fully-developed to form the basis of a case study, they might still help your department score well for its impact.

You should not start an engagement project only because you hope it will generate a REF case study; nor should you avoid engagement just because you think it’s unlikely to lead to ‘REF-able’ impact. However, if your project does generate tangible changes, effects or benefits for any non-academic constituency, anywhere in the world – whether these were planned from the outset or arose more serendipitously – do let us know. We can help you figure out whether you have a potential REF case study and, if so, provide support with writing that up and collecting the evidence you need.

Find out more about the REF at LSE and browse these examples of Impact Case Studies.

What about the KEF?

The UK Government has been moving toward a greater emphasis on knowledge exchange and impact for at least a decade. Against this backdrop, the Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF) was first mentioned in a speech given in October 2017 by the then Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, Jo Johnson. Extensive consultation, including a KEF Pilot, has since been conducted and a first iteration of the assessment is running in autumn 2020.

The assessment is intended to allow universities to both benchmark and improve their knowledge exchange strategies and activities by highlighting under-performance and best practice across the sector and increasing the visibility and accountability of KE work within HEIs. Although it responds to shifts in policy and funding associated with the Industrial Strategy, the KEF is explicitly not an assessment of commercialisation and business engagement alone, but of the full range of KE activities and outcomes.

KEF is primarily intended to assess institutions’ overall strategic approach and capabilities relating to KE, with a secondary emphasis on the outcomes of engagement. In this respect, it differs significantly from REF impact which, at least in impact case studies, is much more narrowly focused precisely on those outcomes. There is also less emphasis in the KEF than the REF on linking knowledge exchange and impact to published research carried out at the submitting institution.

The KEF will be assessed at institutional level, rather than the disciplinary level used in the REF, and unlike the REF, it will not be a process of qualitative peer review. Instead, to reduce the burden both of making and assessing submissions to it, the KEF will be based primarily on metric indicators that are already collected and returned by universities each year in their Higher Education Business Community Interaction (HE-BCI) survey response. There is currently no link between KEF outcomes and higher education funding, though this will change in the future.

LSE does not expect the ongoing development of the KEF to drive any particular changes in the ways that our academics and researchers plan for or carry out KEI activities. Our focus has always been – and will remain – on using excellent social science research to deliver the highest-quality engagement and impact for the widest and most appropriate non-academic groups. Instead of focusing on the KEF specifically, we therefore encourage you to do what you can to help the School achieve its wider strategic goals to maximize the accessibility and uptake of, engagement with, and broad societal benefits derived from our research. You can do that by: 

  • Thinking about knowledge exchange and potential impact right at the start of your research project, and at every stage thereafter.
  • Talking to members of the KEI Integrated Service about the ways in which the School can help you to achieve your KEI goals.
  • Building in time and support for effectively monitoring and collecting evidence of the success of your projects.
  • Telling us about these! Share your success stories with your department or centre and with the KEI Integrated Service.