Research Excellence Framework 2014 (REF) provides socioeconomic impact of HEI case studies, assessing and categorising thousands of documents from across the country

Digital Science has completed the collation of more than 6,500 case study documents into the REF Impact Case Study database.  It is the first time universities have attempted to describe and quantify the far-reaching impact of their work.

The case studies demonstrate the impact of the academic research carried out by 154 of the UK’s universities and higher education institutions over the past twenty years. The freely available website and its underpinning database contains a wealth of information about UK research and its impact on health, society, the economy and the environment, in a format that is easy to search and categorise.

Digital Science, working in conjunction with the Policy Institute at King’s College London and Nature Publishing Group was commissioned by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) on behalf of the four UK funding bodies[1], Research Councils UK and the Wellcome Trust to build the online database and analyse the impact case studies submitted to the 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF).

The Policy Institute at Kings produced an analytical synthetic report  of the case studies.  Nature Publishing Group has published a supplement that highlights a dozen selected case studies at the leading edge of impact, demonstrating the socio-economic and policy impact of UK research and illustrating its global reach.  The report will be printed in Nature on March 26th and will be free to access online here.

The REF Impact Case Study database allows a new range of comparisons between institutions and against national reference profiles and benchmarks via indexed data that enables the exploration and grouping of the case studies to show the positive impact that UK research has made to the world.  It provides a broad canvas of some of the highest impact of excellent research achievements in science, arts and humanities disciplines. It is the first time universities have attempted to describe and quantify the far-reaching impact of their work.

The Digital Science team processed each REF impact case study to normalise the text into an easily readable format and to add index data to help explore and group the content. The analysis also tagged universities’ specialist research areas and impact focus, providing an invaluable tool to examine where research funding has underpinned impact, and for companies to see where they might best collaborate with universities in their R&D projects.

Using geotagging methods applied to the text, the Digital Science methodology also enables users to gain insights into the impact in other countries or – for the UK – within cities and regions.

Digital Science has provided links from research referenced in the case studies to both traditional publication databases such as Thomson Reuters’ Web of Science, for which the company provided augmented links, and leading alternative metrics provider Altmetric, to show article level metrics, where applicable.  Altmetric collates the data showing the attention scholarly research gathers from social media, newspapers, government policy documents and other sources for mentions of scholarly articles.

Jonathan Adams our Chief Scientist says:

“Without a meaningful way to order and categorise the information provided to the REF, the scholarly impact of many of these case studies may well have been hidden forever.  We have managed to produce order out of the chaos from thousands of unedited impact studies from different authors and hundreds of different institutions.”

The results show an unprecedented picture of the excellent outputs from colleges and universities throughout the country. The UK research impact is global and the REF analysis identifies a network of beneficial relationships with worldwide reach.

Jonathan Grant, Director of the Policy Institute at King’s College London adds:

“The overwhelming impression from our analysis of the impact case studies is of the quality, range and expertise of academic research in the UK and the benefits to communities around the world. Our analysis has yielded many fascinating observations and to our knowledge, is the first time that text mining has been used on such a scale to assess research impact. Now, with all the non-redacted case studies being made available, the potential for others to pick up and develop this work is significantly enlarged.”

[1] Higher Education Funding Council for England, Scottish Funding Council, Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, Department of Education and Learning Northern Ireland.