More 4* REF impact case studies

In the run-up to REF2021 a lot has been written about how to put together a top-scoring impact case study. However, at some point we need to skip the theory and get hands-on. So what’s the best way to get an idea of what makes great impact and what makes a great case study?

The answer is easy: seek out 4* impact case studies from REF2014. I don’t mean that we should be blindly trying to repeat what worked in the last REF – as Digital Science and King’s College London found, there are thousands of routes to impact and the sector will surely have moved on in terms of generating, reporting and assessing impact. However, a lot of effort went into the REF2014 impact case studies, leaving a valuable reservoir of impact knowledge.

The REF team did not publish scores for individual impact case studies, only scores for each Unit of Assessment (UoA) impact submission. But it isn’t hard to find 4* examples – simply look for those submissions that scored 4* overall and you know that every impact case study contained therein will be a 4* example.

This approach will net you 120 publicly-available examples of 4* impact case studies across 19 of the 36 UoAs. That’s an impressive and highly useful resource and most universities will have such a list. But what if your “native” Unit of Assessment isn’t represented among these? Sure, you can find examples from other areas that may be broadly relevant but it isn’t ideal. And besides, even if your area is represented in the current 4* impact corpus, you can always use more examples.

Well I have good news. The list below is an extended library of 4* impact case studies. It contains:

  • 198 4* impact case studies across 25 UoAs.
  • That’s an extra 78 4* examples with an additional 6 UoAs now represented where there were no 4* examples before.
  • These “new” UoAs are: Biological Sciences; Electrical and Electronic Engineering, Metallurgy and Materials; Architecture, Built Environment and Planning; Geography, Environmental Studies and Archaeology; Philosophy; and Art and Design – History, Practice and Theory.
  • A number of UoAs now have more 4* examples than before: Clinical Medicine; Public Health, Health Services and Primary Care; Allied Health Professions, Dentistry, Nursing and Pharmacy; Agriculture, Veterinary and Food Science; Law; Social Work and Social Policy; Modern Languages and Linguistics; Communication, Cultural and Media Studies, Library and Information Management.

Note: for UoAs that still don’t have any obvious 4* case studies, see my more recent post on the top 5 REF 2014 impact submissions in each and every UoA.

Extended list of 4* Impact Case Studies by REF 2014 Unit of Assessment

1. Clinical Medicine
2. Public Health, Health Services and Primary Care
3. Allied Health Professions, Dentistry, Nursing and Pharmacy
4. Psychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience
5. Biological Sciences
6. Agriculture, Veterinary and Food Science
13. Electrical and Electronic Engineering, Metallurgy and Materials
14. Civil and Construction Engineering
16. Architecture, Built Environment and Planning
17. Geography, Environmental Studies and Archaeology
18. Economics and Econometrics
20. Law
22. Social Work and Social Policy
23. Sociology
24. Anthropology and Development Studies
25. Education
26. Sport and Exercise Sciences, Leisure and Tourism
27. Area Studies
28. Modern Languages and Linguistics
29. English Language and Literature
30. History
32. Philosophy
34. Art and Design: History, Practice and Theory
35. Music, Drama, Dance and Performing Arts
36. Communication, Cultural and Media Studies, Library and Information Management

How was the extended list generated?

As noted above, the basic set of 4* impact case studies can be compiled from those submissions that scored 4* overall. The enhanced list also takes into account two other factors. Firstly, in the REF2014 impact scoring scheme, the impact template (REF3a) was worth 20% of the total impact score. Secondly, impact elements were scored in half-steps, e.g. 2.0, 2.5, 3.0, 3.5, etc. We can use these two constraints to unearth the extra 4* impact case studies.

Let’s take a couple of examples:

  1. University College London scored 3.70 (i.e. 80% 4*, 10% 3*, 10% 2*) in UoA 32 (impact case study quota of 3). This score could only have come from scores of 4* for each case study and 2.5 for the impact template (REF3a).
  2. Cardiff University scored 3.90 (i.e. 90% 4*, 10* 2*) in UoA 16 (impact case study quota of 2). This score could only have come from scores of 4* for each case study (making up 80% of the overall score) and 3.5 for the impact template (the other 20% of the overall score).

In general, submissions with an odd number of impact case studies (or an even number not divisible by 4) AND impact profiles with a 4* bucket of 90% or 80% must have perfect 4* impact case studies, as the loss of 10% or 20% could only have been caused by a non-perfect impact template (except for ).

I hope this proves useful for REF and beyond!

Thanks to David Steynor (currently Research Impact Manager, Queen Mary University of London) for inspiration on the impact and Emer O’Leary for inspiration on the 4* daffodil sketch.

Edited on 23rd March 2018: I originally included University of York in UoA2 and King’s College London in UoA15 which I shouldn’t have! Both scored 3.80 (i.e. 80% 4*, 20% 3*)  with 6 impact case studies. This could have come from a 4* impact template, 3 x 4* case studies, and 3 x 3.5 case studies. Thanks again to David Steynor!

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