I want to strengthen my return for the UK Research Excellence Framework (REF). My publications are fine, but how can I improve my REF "impact"?

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    Get people to cite your papers. May 25, 2012 at 14:10
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    @DaveClarke I think paper citations influence the quality rating of the publications and at least do not directly influence impact. Would you care to elaborate in an answer how citations can improve my "impact".
    – StrongBad
    May 25, 2012 at 16:52
  • My mistake. I understood impact to be, essentially, how much your work has affected the field, measured roughly by citations. But isn't REF about assessing institutions, not individuals? May 26, 2012 at 6:39
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    "For the purposes of the REF, impact is defined as an effect on, change or benefit to the economy, society, culture, public policy or services, health, the environment or quality of life, beyond academia" - and in particular, influences on either research or teaching are specifically excluded. So citations are not the answer - but I can't tell you what is, except to suggest that you read ref.ac.uk/media/ref/content/pub/… and the other documentation very carefully!
    – Aant
    Jun 16, 2012 at 9:37

1 Answer 1


Necessary disclaimer: I have not had to be involved in REF. This is what I summarized from my experience of the recent French evaluation system. Reading the REF guidelines, it seems pretty similar in focus (although to be honest, for all their wordiness, I prefer the very detailed REF guidelines over the French way of not explicitly detailing every rule).

So, with that out of the way, I would say there are two ways to “improve” what is essentially one’s societal impact. Both are important.

On paper

This is the short-term way of improving your impact: just present it better. Peruse the guidance documents (and possibly other guidance, including documents your local university might issue in order to help its staff), write down the relevant keywords, list all items that can be counted towards “impact”. Then, brainstorm (possibly with colleagues or friends!) for ways to tie your already existing contributions to these items. Sometimes it is just a matter of remembering stuff you didn't think of (in my case, I remembered that we had some colleagues from an industrial company who showed up at a series of tutorials).

For real

Of course, you can also try to influence your plans to include more activities of clear societal impact. There are unlimited number of things you could come up with, and they depend widely on context (which you did not give). Keeping it short and generic, here are a few good examples that I can think of (some of them more applicable in some fields, obviously):

  • organize panel discussions on your favorite topic, open to the general public
  • open lab day
  • “cultural heritage” research
  • create visualizations of your research (pictures, movies, whatever), and publish it
  • interviews or other interventions in the media (even local)
  • being listed on experts registries: courts, journalism schools
  • all kinds of work with local artists
  • workshop or discussion groups involving academic and industrial communities
  • being a member of a standardization body

It looks like some sort of random list, cause I tried to list diverse activities. I'm sure others will have plenty of ideas to add!

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