The landscape of development research impact: An analysis of REF2021 impact case studies


The landscape of development research impact: An analysis of REF2021 impact case studies

The Research Excellence Framework (REF) is a national peer-review assessment of the quality of research undertaken by UK Higher Education Institutions (HEIs). This report uses the REF2021 impact case studies database to explore the non-academic impact of development research in the UK research landscape. The analysis in this report identifies key enablers to research impact and presents ways to amplify this impact. The report focuses specifically on international development research case studies, defined as those which involve research that addresses global challenges in alignment with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and results in beneficial change for Low- and Middle-Income Countries (LMICs), specific regions, and/or the global community.

The case studies analysed herein include Official Development
Assistance (ODA) and non-ODA funded research.

From the REF2021 impact case studies database, which includes 6,781 case studies, UKCDR identified a sample of 891 international development research case studies. From this sample, we conducted a portfolio analysis identifying the general patterns in the types of impact achieved across different disciplines and research areas. This was complemented by a case study deep dive, which involved interviewing UK-based researchers and LMIC partners
involved in the impact from 10 selected case studies. The deep dive was undertaken to better understand the connections between how research is conducted and the type of development impact achieved.

This report provides a snapshot of international development research undertaken by UK HEIs in the REF2021 period (2013-2020). Based on the REF2021 definition of non-academic impact, it gives an overview of the types of impact research has in LMICs and globally and how this differs across disciplines and topics.

It also provides a new framework of research enablers for impactful development research and mechanisms for supporting these. The framework encompasses six dimensions:

  • understanding of impact;
  • funding approaches;
  • co-production with research users;
  • long-term equitable partnerships;
  • embedded capacity strengthening; and
  • operational processes.

If you’d like to understand this work better or arrange a meeting for your organisation/team, please reach out to UKCDR Research and Policy Officer, Andrea Padilla at

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