REF2021 Impact: A Blow from a Blunt Instrument or a Booster for Success?

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Impact is clearly one of the success stories of REF2014, providing a rich picture of the variety and quality of the contribution that UK research has made across our society and economy.
— Lord Stern, Building on Success and Learning from Experience 2016

While Lord Stern sees impact as a success story (Building on Success and Learning from Experience), there are many who worry that it is more like being assaulted with a blunt weapon. This especially so for those academics whose work will take many years to get into practice, such as implantable technologies with their long regulatory lead times. 

These worries are often made exacerbated by definition of impact is to be broadened and this could be seen to favour activities that seem to have a shorter lead-time to market.

However, there is hope. There is a clear and major emphasis for REF2021 around building partnerships between business and universities - and doing it in a way that will have maximum chances of success.

In fact the act of pulling together a winning commercial/academic partnership itself can be an easily achieved short-term impact goal. Furthermore, once established, such partnerships are very 'fundable' by grant-giving bodies like Innovate UK or even Higher Education Innovation Fund (HEIF) - making it a double win. As an optimist, I've blogged lately that I believe that Horizon 2020 funding from the European Commission will be available to us in the UK in some form after Brexit.

Note though, that this partnership approach is not 'Knowledge Transfer', which is a strange beast that assumes that the process to success is linear and passes up a'technology-readiness' escalator from University to those that will convert the idea to cash (often with expectation of no further involvement from the academic).

No these winning partnerships are much more collaborative and adopt a 'co-development and co-own' model, that seamlessly moves beyond grant funding and into the investment stages and through to launch (and exit).

This is best described as 'Knowledge Exchange' and its benefits attract writers in this area who extol its virtues, such as Julie Tam, Universities UK and Mark Reed, Chair of Socio-Technical Innovation, Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) and N8 Newcastle University. In fact I would thoroughly recommend Prof Reed's book The Research Impact Handbook: Fast Track Impact. He maps out a clear route through to impact using this collaborative approach - with a great emphasis on cross-disciplinary teams, trust and his mantra 'empathy'.

I am also very excited about some of the new ventures that the REF impact is encouraging to be formed. In particular I am impressed with the recently formed city-wide programme that the Leeds City Region has formed for their burgeoning MedTech sector - given the wonderful title of Translate and headed by Professor John Fisher.

I am also very excited about some of the new ventures that the REF impact is encouraging to be formed. In particular I am impressed with the recently formed city-wide programme that the Leeds City Region has formed for their burgeoning MedTech sector - given the wonderful title of Translate (@TranslateMedTec) and headed by the inimitable Professor John Fisher.

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What is clear from all this work is that impact is an opportunity to shine - even in compax fields such as MedTEch. All you need is two things

  1. A clear vision of all future stages - right through to delivery and beyond
  2. A winning partnership between business and university

Ortheia is hear to help you

Here in Ortheia, we are a team of contributing scientists and technologist - we continue to publish in high-impact peer-reviewed journals and are inventors in our own rights on our patents. We have all the processes in place - that match and mirror those in Mark Reed's book The Research Impact Handbook: Fast Track Impact.

We can organise and run impact workshops for you - even collaborate with you through the tough investment and regulatory phases. Or even just talk over a cup of coffee - following Prof Reed's mantra, wherever your impact endeavours are we will be able to empathise.

Let us help you - contact us 

We'll ensure that the impact of your work is not a blow from a blunt instrument but a true booster for your success

Prof Edward Draper