Three-D Issue 19: Practice-based research and the REF2014

John Adams
University of Bristol

Symposium organised by the MeCCSA practice network, University of Bedfordshire and the Kingston University Practice Research Unit.

23rd October 2012 at
the Rose Theatre, Kingston

In the protracted run up to the census date for the REF this symposium provided a timely and well-judged steer for practice researchers and research managers, evident from the capacity attendance. With most practice work complete or in the final stages of preparation, the focus was clearly on the presentation of outputs and impact narratives.

Bruce Brown (University of Brighton), chair of Panel D, summarised the key REF elements with reference to practice-based research in the REF, emphasising the inclusive nature of the criteria and the responsibility of each UoA to exercise both imagination and judgment in their interpretation. He noted that impact and environment together account for 35% of the overall, making outputs proportionally less influential than in previous evaluation exercises, which may well add to the value of practice in terms of significance and reach. Overall, the criteria are probably more open and receptive to practice than any previous evaluation exercise, albeit requiring a degree of interpretation on a case-by-case basis.

The two main sessions focused on the challenges of presenting outputs and preparing the impact narrative. In my presentation I focused on the opportunities offered by the 300-word statement and the portfolio, providing a detailed analysis of those elements embedded in the criteria that will help effective presentation of practice in the REF context. Rona Lee (University of Wolverhampton) gave an account of her work as artist-in-residence at the Southampton National Oceanography Centre (engaging with practices, technologies and material culture of marine geography) and shared her current thinking about how best to frame this work in terms of the REF criteria. With reference to significance and originality, Cahal McLaughlin (Queen’s University, Belfast) discussed his work creating the audio-visual Prisons Memory Archive and, with film extracts, some of the formal and ethical issues involved in representing the experience of imprisonment.

Graham Jeffrey (University of Western Scotland) shared his experience of the dilemmas he encountered in mapping cross-disciplinary outputs onto the disciplinary panel structure in the preparation of his UoA submission for sub-panel 36. Stephen Boyd-Davis (Royal College of Art) gave a witty and sceptical account of the challenges of providing evidence of impact, illustrated by an scenario that showed how difficult it might have been to provide evidence in support of the impact of Alan Turing work by the REF criteria…

Sue Thornham, speaking from a position of substantial RAE experience and current engagement with the REF, summarised the constructive nature of the criteria for practice and addressed doubts around the apparent lack of practice experience amongst the Library and Communications sub-panel. Stephen Partridge (University of Dundee) shared fears that a written ‘standard PhD’ was re-emerging in HEIs, jeopardising practice-based research degrees. Maybe MeCCSA practice section could organise a survey of the requirements for practice-based PhDs?

In sum, the key questions of the day focused on how best to mobilise the output and impact criteria in the context of practice, and many of the concerns around these issues were generously articulated and constructively addressed through the presentations and plenary discussions. These evidently encouraged greater confidence that the REF criteria provide an adequate means through which to represent the research dimensions of the many and diverse forms of creative and socially engaged work that characterise practice in HE.

Thanks to Joanna Callaghan, John Mullarkey and Helen Minors for organising an excellent day.


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