As we approach the mid-term for REF, most Universities now have lists of potential case studies their researchers are developing. But what if there are hidden case studies that no-one knows about? Most Directors of Research (like me), Impact Officers and the like, have asked researchers to volunteer impacts they think might be worth developing. However, there are sometimes significant and far-reaching impacts that no-one knows about, which you may be able to claim or develop if you can find them.
Here are three ways to identify impact case studies that you might otherwise miss:
1. Identify historic impact case studies from staff that are no longer at your University. To be submitted to REF2021, they will need to be based on underpinning research published since 2000, so you don't have to look back that far. There are two ways you can do this. The easiest way is to look at University records of major grants awarded to your department since 1995, and then screen these for grants led by PIs who are no longer working at the University. Then research each project to see if any impacts have arisen, that you might want to write up as an impact case study. The second approach is to ask long-standing members of staff who have been in post since 2000 if they can think of any ex-colleagues who they think are likely to have generated impacts linked to the research they did while they were at your University. I've done this via an online staff survey, but you might just want to take a few key people to coffee to quiz them.
2. Identify indirect impacts arising from fundamental non-applied research. It was possible in REF2014 (and seems likely in REF2021) to submit impact case studies based on work done by colleagues in other Universities (anywhere in the world) who took your fundamental research and applied it to generate impact, for example computer scientists who use algorithms developed by pure mathematicians to create software applications that generate revenue for companies. To find out if you have some of these, you'll need to do a citation analysis. This is made easier by citation analysis tools like SciVal. Essentially you are doing a citation analysis for key non-applied papers and screening for citations in applied disciplines or journals. By scanning these papers, it should become apparent if there is an impact worth investigating further.
3. Strategically identify future impacts based on a research activity or body of work. HEFCE are consulting on Stern's recommendation to broaden underpinning research to include a body of work, and it is unlikely that any individual researcher will volunteer/suggest future impact work based on work across your group. For example, you may have a body of work that has the potential to contribute to post-Brexit policy in your area, and although no-one may be pursuing this yet, you may be able to identify a pathway to impact that could yield results prior to 2020 (given the timescale for Brexit) based on a body of existing work that is now relevant in this policy context. In some cases you may want to suggest additional new research to further strengthen the impact.
These sorts of impacts are not likely to be volunteered by researchers, so it those of us in strategic roles need to consider these opportunities, in case we are missing important opportunities.