Impact Case Studies – the Good, the Bad, the Ugly

Posted in: Resources, training

We were delighted to invite Saskia Walcott from Walcott Communications back to the University on Thursday 28th June 2018 to take part in our 'Lunch with Impact' event. During her visit, Saskia shared her insight and expertise into compiling and writing REF Impact Case Studies with attendees. Saskia was joined by 18 members of staff across the university including School of Management, Biological Sciences, Computer Science, Sport Science and Exercise and professional services to take part in a participatory workshop.

The objectives of the session were to provide us with:

  • Guidance on writing impact case studies
  • Examples of Impact Case Studies - good, the bad and the ugly!
  • Do’s, Don’ts and Maybes
  • Opportunity to start to write a Title and Impact Summary with support

Key messages

  • Importance of being able to tell your story so that it is accessible to your intended audience
  • Set out the context (problem), the journey your research took (mechanisms) and the difference you made (Impact/outcomes) covering the 5W – who, why, what, when, where
  • Be specific as possible
  • Evidence your impact and make it easy to access – include quotes and extracts in your ICS
  • Look at the REF 2014 Impact Case Study database for examples

So what does good look like?

For a good impact case study you need to have a strong narrative, be able to tell the story of how your research has made a difference.   You need to know who your audience is.  You may need to consider four key audiences when developing your ICS, primarily: Assessors (REF panel members) and members of the Public / Lay reviewers; and secondly, Funders and Universities.  Ultimately, your story needs to be understood by an informed lay audience i.e. they may be from your disciplinary background but may not necessarily be an expert in your area of research.  Therefore avoid highly technical language and acronyms, make it accessible as possible.

A good impact case study would start by setting out the context for the research, covering what problem it was trying to address, how the research addressed that problem and the difference it made.  It would weave in the reach and significance of this difference providing evidence to support this claim.  This evidence would be easy for the reviewers to obtain, with quotes from testimonials and reports being used within the case study.  The narrative would be confident and committed with those that scored well tending to use words like “resulted in” or “led to” with evidence to substantiate.

Saskia set out her seven elements for writing a 'good' impact case study as follows:

  1. Articulate the impact of the research
  2. Explain why the impact was important
  3. Understand the story you want to tell
  4. Outline what the research and significance of your research is
  5. Evidence your impact
  6. Explain your journey
  7. Seek feedback

So when you are starting to complete the Impact Case Study Template sections in detail, consider the following:

  • Title: The trick here is to use the Ronseal philosophy – What would it say on the tin? It needs to inform the reader about the story you are going to give focusing on the ending – the impact.
  • Summary: Address the 5W (Why, What, When, Where, Who), be specific, make sure you have covered the problem, solution (research) and difference it has made (Impact).
  • Underpinning research: Need to show the research meets the 2* threshold (leaving no doubt in the reviewers minds) and how the research contributed to the impact.  Include the context, what is the current situation or practice, and what has improved.  Words such as “Ground breaking”, “Unique” or “New” are powerful.
  • Detailing the impact: Start with the Impact (Outcomes) then focus on the story (mechanisms) within a specific context. Demonstrate both the reach and significance of your research and be a specific as possible. Include evidence of your claims and extract information from testimonials and documents to include within the ICS text (so that assessors do not need to go looking for it).  Make sure you use multiple sources of evidence, using a mixture of quantitative and qualitative data.  Consider using images as they can be powerful.

For any help with your research impact, please contact the University of Bath team on or use our Research Impact Toolkit.

Watch out for future Lunch with Impact sessions planned for Autumn/Winter 2018.  If you have an idea for a future session then please contact

Posted in: Resources, training


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