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This report captures an initial analysis of 6,679 impact case studies that were submitted to the 2014 Research Excellence Framework. The case studies outline changes and benefits to the economy, society, culture, policy, health, the  environment and quality of life — both within the UK and overseas. 

The report was commissioned as part of wider work to analyse the impact case studies. This analysis was undertaken by Digital Science, a division of Macmillan Science & Education; working in conjunction with its sister company Nature Publishing Group and the policy institute at King’s College, London. This project was co-funded by the UK higher education funding bodies, Research Councils UK and Wellcome Trust. 

Text mining and qualitative analysis techniques were used to undertake a synthetic review of the case studies, and to identify general patterns and thematic structures in the impact of research across the sector. The report draws together the key findings of this analysis alongside some deeper questions focused on particular sub-sets of the case studies. The report paves the way for others to explore the case studies further and undertake their own extended analysis. 

Synthetic analysis of the REF impact case studies found widespread breadth and depth in research impact, supporting the extensive value of HE research on wider society. Its key findings include that:

  • Over 80 per cent of the REF impact case studies included underpinning research that was multidisciplinary.
  • The impact case studies were diverse and wide-ranging, with over 60 unique ‘impact topics’ identified.
  • The reported research impacts stemmed from research in wide-ranging subject areas, with over 3,700 unique pathways from research to impact identified.
  • Research undertaken in UK higher education institutions has made a contribution to every country in the world.

The analysis project has also produced the REF impact case study database, a searchable tool enabling analysis and automated text mining of the case studies.

Further information


An initial analysis of REF impact

Download the Analysis_of_REF_impact as PDF (6,809 KB)

Underlying data for Impact topics (added 14 April 2015)

Download the Underlying data for Impact topics as MS Excel Spreadsheet (1,717 KB)


View and enlarge some of the graphics from the report

Figure 4 Alluvial diagram linking FORs with UOAs

Download the Fig_4 as PDF (9,309 KB)

Figure 7: Chord diagram illustrating size and relationship of impact topics

Download the Fig_7 as PDF (2,888 KB)

Figure 8: Heat map illustrating distribution of topics by UOA and main panels

Download the Fig_8 as PDF (257 KB)

Figure 10: Simplified impact wheels for all 60 topics; see Excel file for the underlying data 

Download the Fig_10 as PDF (231 KB) Download the Impact_Wheels_Underlying_Data as MS Excel Spreadsheet (46 KB)

Figure 12: Alluvial diagram linking FORs with UOAs to impact topics (impact pathways)

Download the Fig_12 as PDF (7,225 KB)

Figure 13: The global reach of impacts arising from research undertaken in UK HEIs

Download the Fig_13 as PDF (541 KB)

Date: 25 March 2015

Ref: Independent research