Demonstrating the impact of research in art and design: A case study
The 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF2014) formally introduced Research Impact as one of the measures used to assess the quality of research produced by UK Higher Education Institutions (HEIs). Whilst impact assessment represented a significant shift in the assessment of research (Comunian et al 2014) by moving beyond conventional forms of peer-review and professional standing, it was also forged from long-standing academic traditions. Impact assessment was designed through interactions with the academic community (Wroblewska, 2021) and rooted in established academic commitments to epistemic responsibility (Chubb & Reed, 2017). Rather than seeking to significantly change research or researcher behaviour, impact can therefore be viewed as a change to discourses, creating additional ways to value research and opportunities to renegotiate academic identities.
This Case Study focusses on the role of the underpinning research environment in supporting the development of research impact. Drawing on data from across the 2014 and 2021 REF periods, it provides an in-depth depiction of how one School of Art and Design responded to the introduction of impact assessment. Document analysis, quantitative analysis and semi-structured interviews with research active staff were used to explore the research environment from multiple perspectives and identify strategies to help staff effectively demonstrate the impact of Art and Design (A&D) research.
The Case reveals a School and University with a maturing research environment that has made substantial strides in incorporating impact into its research operations. It highlights that, for A&D researchers who are already engaged in collaborative, interdisciplinary and/or co-participatory research, the concept of impact is well understood and accepted. However, context-specific approaches to developing research environments are required to bridge the gap between institutional strategies and researcher’s needs to ensure that research remains accessible pathway for Emerging Career Researchers and, in doing so, fosters a sustainable, high-performing research environment capable of supporting impactful research.
- School of Art and Design