The recent Research Excellence Framework (REF) exercise in the UK exposed many challenges inherent in responding to national assessments. From general feelings of disgruntlement through to mental health challenges, it is clear that the entire process of collation and submission took a significant toll on those involved.

The future of the REF remains to be determined. But regardless of whether another 7-year UK cycle emerges with a 2028 assessment date, further international frameworks are still upcoming. These include the Dutch Standard Evaluation Protocol (SEP) which closes this year, the Polish Research Evaluation Exercise (REE) that is considered for 2022, and later the Australian Engagement & Impact Assessment (EIA) of 2024.

Many discussions will be had around learnings from the structure and the process of the REF, and how these are applicable to other frameworks. But steps can be taken on the institution’s side to alleviate some of the pressures that assessments create.

Impact Literacy and National Assessments

Beyond the nature of the exercise, there also indicators that the varying degrees of impact literacy may also have exacerbated universities’ efforts.

At its heart, impact literacy is a concept for both the individual and the organisation. It describes a series of methods for embedding impact-first thinking into institutions and the way their colleagues think.

Those with a greater degree of literacy are strategically primed to consider all of their activities in terms of their social, environmental and economic impact. By contrast, if impact is not woven into the fabric of all activities both institutionally and individually, this can lead to large amounts of retrospective work when it comes to the assessment. This introduces greater scope for human error and requires verification of data that could be years old and difficult (or impossible) to locate.

This is especially problematic with longer cycles, including ones such as the Dutch SEP which is in effect a 7-year continuum rather than a lengthy build-up with a single payoff.

Increasing impact literacy, however, is not a rapid process, and the knowledge and skills can take time to propagate. 2028 and the UN’s SDG target of 2030 are getting closer and closer and the sooner institutions are able to take action towards improving impact understand, the faster they are able to accelerate their progress towards the deadlines.

One effective way to do this is through eLearning impact courses. With the end of global lockdown still distant on the horizon, online courses and assessments can provide an excellent way to upskill individuals and organisations on the principles and applications of impact – and then enable them to apply this impact-first thinking into all of their activities going forward.

Upskilling now means that activities are planned and prioritised differently, but more importantly leads to subtle nudges that, by the time a cycle comes to an end, result in a smoother holistic output of impact evidence and activity.

Of course, impact education transcends national assessments and in fact equips organisations to move towards with UN’S 2030 SDGs deadline, safe in the confidence that their activities are driving genuine impact and helping improve society, the economy, the environment and more.

Whatever the fate of the REF, increasing impact literacy sooner – rather than later – will provide scalable foundations for working towards some of the greatest challenges of our age and will also reshape institutions to respond more efficiently to ever-changing frameworks.

If you’d like to learn more about impact education and our online CPD-accredited eLearning courses, please follow this link to get to grips with the possibilities.

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