Analysis of REF2021 Impact Case Studies for the SHAPE disciplines: Invitation to Tender

For full information, please download the tender document.


The publication of REF2021 results marks an important moment for institutions and researchers, as this constitutes the principal mode of research assessment in the UK, and one that only occurs every few years. This presents an opportunity for the research community to take stock of what has happened over recent years, and to recognise the achievements and successes of research across the UK. The impact case studies submitted to REF2021 offer a rich, qualitative dataset that has real potential to illustrate this.

The British Academy is the UK’s National Academy for the Humanities and Social Sciences and a key advocate for the SHAPE disciplines (Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts for People and Society). The Academy is aiming to “tell the story” of research impact across the SHAPE disciplines through REF2021, using the case study dataset as a window in the first instance to the rich and diverse impact across sectors, places and people that our disciplines provide.

For this research commission, the British Academy is working in association with the Academy of Social Sciences. The Academy of Social Sciences is a national academy of academics, practitioners and learned societies in social science. Both organisations are aiming to coordinate and complement other analytical activities going on in the sector. The research to be commissioned here will provide a solid evidence base on which the British Academy and the Academy of Social Sciences, as well as others, can build upon to articulate the value of research in these disciplines, with respect to the impact that they have on UK society, and around the world. To this end, the commissioned research is expected to use the REF case study database as a starting point and as a resource which provides the most coherent evidence base that is widely available, but it must not result in a set of findings which only sees impact through this lens.

Research questions

The overarching research question for this project is: What are the stories, successes and cumulative effects on people, the economy, policy and society of the impact of research in the SHAPE disciplines as demonstrated by the REF 2021 impact case study data? This immediately leads to the most important element for this study which is a deeply evidence-based and creative analysis of the characteristics, typologies and diverse understandings of what impact in the SHAPE disciplines looks like, and why. What are the macro and micro-level characteristics of impact in the SHAPE disciplines? For example, to what extent is the reach of impact local, national, or international across SHAPE? Is the significance greater in some sectors or types of impact than in others? Other characteristics might include stakeholders/end users, interaction with industry across different sectors, influence on public policy, etc. We will be looking specifically in the tender responses for initial ideas about what characteristics might be feasible to identify, and how we can use this as a solid foundation for future analyses of impact in our disciplines.

Secondary research questions that we are interested in and will help to focus the work requested in this tender are:

  • What are the ways in which SHAPE research impact can be analysed to tell the ‘big picture’ stories across multiple case studies and disciplines, as well as the ‘micro-level’ stories that might be at individual levels or across thematic/grand challenge areas? We will be looking for the successful tenderer to come up with a mix of qualitative and quantitative methods and approaches to answer this question, in particular helping us to build up a sense of where proxy measures and sector-level data might be able to be developed for certain kinds of impact.
  • How does SHAPE research impact relate to “grand challenges” facing the economy and society, locally, nationally and internationally? We will be looking for the successful tenderer to identify and propose innovative ways to map this, including diverse approaches across different kinds of grand challenges.
  • How inter- and multi-disciplinary is research impact across the SHAPE disciplines? Can the case studies give us an insight into the multidisciplinary nature of SHAPE disciplines supporting impact within their respective main and sub-panels? How do SHAPE disciplines support impact in Main Panels A and B and vice versa? What can we learn from this?
  • How diverse is the impact across the SHAPE disciplines? Are there clusters of impact in particular areas, and can we determine anything about the nature of that impact and the type of insights SHAPE disciplines lead to from that clustering?
  • What has been the influence of the British Academy as a research funder in terms of impact?

Finally, as noted in the rationale, for this commission we are also working in association with the Academy of Social Sciences. We therefore will also require all the data and analysis, wherever possible, to be broken down by the two sectors (arts and humanities, and social sciences(A&H; SS), and, where possible, by discipline so as to enable more granular analysis in due course by different disciplinary sub-groupings (eg humanities and social science).

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