by GK Strategy 6th July, 2020

Academic Research – not just about findings, but also impact!’

Mike Williams takes a look how GK strategy can help UK universities to increase the policy impact of their academic research, and how the postponement of the Research Excellence Framework submission deadline presents a golden opportunity to demonstrate the value of their work to policymakers.

Christmas might only come once a year, but the Research Excellence Framework (REF) review is even rarer – REF2021 will be only the second time this once-every-seven-years exercise is undertaken. However, for those universities looking to do a little extra work before they make their submission, there is an advantage that last-minute Christmas shoppers will never have – a deadline extension.

First conducted in 2014, the REF is the system for assessing the quality of research in UK higher education institutions, of which the majority are universities. The Results of REF will be used by the Higher Education funding bodies to inform research funding from the academic year 2022–23. Originally set for November this year, the final submission date has been confirmed as 31 March 2021 and, more importantly, the period in which research impact may occur to be eligible for submission has also been extended. The assessment period for impact will now run from 1 August 2013 to 31 December 2020 – giving universities five more months to optimise their submissions.

The UK has a grand tradition of superb academic research, with some of the finest research institutions in the world providing unparalleled academic insight and ground-breaking discoveries across a myriad of disciplines. However, grander still is the unfortunate tradition of UK universities failing to achieve the full potential of this research in terms of influence, particularly when it comes to impact on the world of policy – where, arguably, it is needed the most.

Policymakers, civil servants, and other institutions of Government are crying out for an evidence base on which to ground the formulation of policy, and the scrutineers of Government are equally in need of an understanding of the effects of Government policy across all facets of life. Unfortunately, these cries are not often heard beyond the boundaries of Whitehall, and so the onus often falls upon those in the know to reach out.

Engagement with policymakers doesn’t have to be complicated or partisan, and the results can be huge. It can be as simple as sharing research with individuals or organisations who should be interested in its findings, but a more organised and strategic approach will always reap the most rewards.

GK Strategy specialises in taking academic research, boiling it down to its key findings and policy recommendations, and getting this in front of the influencers and decision makers, where the information will have the most impact. We have worked with universities seeking to cement their credentials in a specific field, academics working on projects that have a synergy with political objectives, and of course, institutions looking to ensure their REF submissions are as strong as they can be.

We work with researchers to plan and facilitate their engagement, providing them with training and support to ensure they can take full advantage of opportunities as they arise. We know how busy academics can be, so our job is to ensure that researchers are empowered to make their voices heard, without overburdening them with extra work. When academics have research and teaching commitments, they need extra capacity and guidance to have confidence in policy engagement, and to learn what is the right message to take to different stakeholders.

Academics have an opportunity to provide impartial information to those who would benefit from the understanding it provides, to enable effective, evidence-backed policymaking. The new REF deadline offers an additional incentive to universities to help facilitate this, maximising the impact of research and securing the reputation of their institutions.

Of course, we know that not all academics need this sort of support, but here at GK we are always surprised at the amount of excellent research which is yet to find its way in front of the right audience. Any university interested in seeing how we can make your research more impactful should get in touch, and see how our expertise can forge lasting links between institutions and policymakers.

Mike Williams is an Account Director at GK Strategy – mike@gkstrategy.com

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