REF 2021 – Impact

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.

Impacts will be assessed in terms of their ‘reach and significance’ regardless of the geographic location in which they occurred, whether locally, regionally, nationally or internationally.

There are questions that we continually need to ask ourselves: ‘what is the change I am seeking to make?’, ‘so what.. why should anyone care?’ and ‘what happened as a result?’ If we can clearly define and answer these for ourselves, we stand a better chance of defining it for others, and taking steps to truly understand our impact.

HEFCE will maintain consistency with the previous exercise in the following key areas: Case studies describing specific examples of impacts achieved during the assessment period (1 August 2013 to 31 July 2020), underpinned by research in the period 1 January 2000 to 31 December 2020.

An institutional-level environment statement, and a completed template describing the submitted unit’s research and impact environment, related to the period 1 August 2013 to 31 July 2020.

The following three distinct elements, along with associated weightings, will be assessed for of each submissionThe weightings are as follows:

  • Outputs – 60%
  • Impact – 25%
  • Environment – 15%

The value of each impact case study (ICS) as a percentage of the total submission will be:

  Number of ICS required Value of each ICS as a percentage of the whole REF2021 submission
Up to 19.99 2 12.5%
20-34.99 3 8.3%
35-49.99 4 6.3%
50-64.99 5 5.0%
65-79.99 6 4.2%

Impact case study template
Annex G – Case Study Template_final

The impact case study template (‘Annex G in the Guidance on submissions) includes
additional, mandatory fields to collect contextual data. They will be entered separately and will not be routinely provided to panels. They will not cound towards the page limit of 5 pages.

When presenting numeric data, submitting units are strongly encouraged to adhere to the guidelines set out in the ‘Guidelines for standardising quantitative indicators of impact within REF case studies’ (available at under Guidance).

Continued impact case studies (from the Panel criteria and working methods)

292. As set out in the ‘Guidance on submissions’ (paragraphs 314 to 317), case studies continued from examples submitted in 2014 will be eligible for submission in REF 2021. All impact case studies submitted in REF 2021 must meet the same eligibility criteria, including the length of the window for underpinning research (1 January 2000 to 31 December 2020) and the assessment period (1 August 2013 to 31 July 2020) for the impact described. The main panels set out below their expectations in relation to receiving continued case studies in the assessment.

293. The panels encourage submitting units to submit their strongest case studies irrespective of whether they are new examples or represent continuing impact from those submitted in REF 2014. Main Panel A supplementary criteria – continued case studies

294. Main Panel A will assess each case study on merit and wishes to receive information on how any continued case study relates to that submitted in REF 2014. Panel members will have access to the REF 2014 database and may refer to this to understand the context of the 2021 case study.

295. Main Panels B, C and D. The sub-panels will assess each case study on merit and do not wish to receive information on how any continued case study relates to that submitted to REF 2014. If any such information is provided, the sub-panels will not take it into account during the assessment process.

Impact case studies that include confidential information

Arrangements are in place to enable institutions to submit case studies that include confidential information, with the agreement of the relevant organisation(s). Please see para. 307 in the REF 2021 Guidance on Submissions.

Impact in the Environment section

Information is required about the environment for research and enabling impact for each submitting unit, relating to the period 1 August 2013 to 31 July 2020. A template for REF5b is provided in Annex I of the Guidance on Submissions.

REF 2014 reference material: