The Research Excellence Framework (REF) is the latest attempt by the UK government to evaluate research in UK universities. A key component of this is the evaluation of the economic and societal impact of research. We discuss the nature of such impact and how, in an ideal world, we would measure it. We then evaluate a number of REF case studies and conclude that they are a long way from being an accurate reflection of impact. They are primarily narratives, with little hard information and no attempt to discount over time or spatially, or to evaluate against a counterfactual. But the REF deserves credit for focusing attention on impact, and it must be recognized that at this point in time, a first best methodology is not possible. Both the research councils and the universities need to begin collecting data which will facilitate improved analyses in the future.
- university research; evaluation; research impact; REF