Three-D Issue 20: REF: time moves on

Peter GoldingPeter Golding, Northumbria University

The editor of Three-D suggested members would welcome an update on preparations for the REF (which surely no longer needs spelling out!) as we start counting down in weeks rather than years to the submission deadline of November 29th.  So, wearing, somewhat uncomfortably, two hats as a MeCCSA Executive Committee member and as chair of sub-panel 36, which bears the not very concise title of Communication, Cultural and Media Studies, Library and Information Management, may I draw your attention to one or two latest developments.

First, people should keep an eye on the FAQ’s regularly updated by HEFCE staff.  These tend to reflect the queries flooding in from academics around the country and are well worth reading to pick up tips and guidance on the exercise.  These can be found at http://www.ref.ac.uk/faq/

7 Peter G - q1Second, it cannot be said too often (and I don’t doubt you are hearing it endlessly from people like me in your own university) that anyone involved in preparing stuff for the REF should read the guidance.  We urge our students to ‘read the question’, and it really is key to getting REF submissions into good shape. The published guidance is often quite prescriptive about what material is required in the various sections and how information is to be presented.  Take this advice seriously; it makes it easier to prepare submissions and will ensure you don’t leave anything out. Everything you need is on the HEFCE REF 2014 website.

One issue that continues to worry people in our field is how practice work gets assessed.  Of course this term is a broad one. Practice in media and communications includes a range of work, from journalism, to film and video making, to broadcasting, and so on. The crux is, as it always has been, to ensure that the submitted work demonstrates its research element and the excellence of such work.   Remember, “Panels have been instructed to define criteria and adopt assessment processes that enable them to recognise and treat on an equal footing excellence in research across the spectrum of applied, practice-based, basic and strategic research, wherever that research is conducted”.

7 Peter G - q2Another concern that clearly exacerbates REF neuroses at the moment is the vexed question of ‘impact’. The exercise has moved a long way from initial definitions of impact which were likely to be restricted to economic and commercial outcomes.  What is regarded as ‘impact’ is now extremely diverse, and well explained and described in the submission guidance. In our field it is frequently possible to present extremely good accounts of impact, and again colleagues are urged to read the guidance carefully in order to construct impact templates and case studies that can be readily understood by sub-panel members and which can be accorded the ratings they deserve.  This is an opportunity for researchers to show the impact (and not just dissemination) of the work they do.

In January and February REF panel and sub-panels all met to once again go through the appointment of assessors and additional members, and to address a whole range of issues about the submissions and their assessment.  There is no doubt the exercise is being taken extremely seriously by all concerned, and that it remains rooted in peer review is a crucial and defining characteristic we should welcome. At the January MeCCSA conference the Chair of Panel D, Professor Bruce Brown, spoke to the conference and answered questions from the floor. It was encouraging to see a general sense of confidence and clarity which bodes well for the outcomes in the REF for this field.  In the coming weeks MeCCSA will continue to advise members where they feel we can be helpful, and we look forward to receiving any such queries you may have.

Posted by Einar Thorsen