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How to Achieve Higher Impact Scores in REF 2014

by | Jul 4, 2013 | Best Practice,

Changes to Educational Funding
Universities are producing a wealth of knowledge. Their researchers are publishing thousands of research papers every year and the individuals inside the universities possess knowledge and expertise on endless topics.
What if this knowledge could be spread more widely in society? The positive effects for both the universities and society as a whole would be very substantial.
And from 2014 these benefits will come in the form of extra funding to UK Higher Education institutions.
In the UK, a new system called the Research Excellence Framework (REF 2014) has been set up to assess the quality of research at UK Higher Education Institutions. These assessments strongly influence how the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) allocates funding for universities.
In REF 2014 20% of the weighting is given to the assessed impact of the research. This element is new and it “gives recognition to high quality research that leads to demonstrable benefits to the economy, society, public policy, culture and quality of life. It is assessed in terms of reach and significance”.
So how can educational institutions increase the impact of their research?
Today it’s often done via briefings to small groups and by sending press releases to the press. Both tactics have certain benefits but they also have drawbacks.
Briefings to small groups are expensive and can be logistically difficult; and certainly not very scalable.
Press releases can be scalable, but it is a scattergun approach where the university’s PR department is in fierce competition with thousands of other news stories, a competition which can sometimes lead to a (very) slight amplification of the research – as illustrated in this infographic.
How Onalytica’s business experience can benefit Education
At Onalytica we have for years been working with large brands who, just as universities, have an interest in spreading their messages as wide as possible.
Many of these organisations have some key similarities with the universities of the REF 2014 world.
The organisations have a desire to spread the knowledge of their work; and while they may not publish many academic journals, they often produce thousands of white papers, case studies, presentations, videos and blog posts (content).
In order to maximise the reach of their content our customers increasingly use a marketing tactic called Influencer Marketing which can be deployed to great effect with higher education institutions as well.
How it works
The tactic is quite simple: First, the organisation takes all its collateral, all white papers, case studies, presentations, and so on – and uploads it to our influencer relationship management platform (Onalytica IRM).
Second, a large group of relevant influencers, typically in the thousands, are also uploaded to the solution. These influencers can be journalists, local political leaders, commentators, bloggers – anyone with a relevant public platform.
The platform continuously ingests everything the influencers are publishing online – on their blogs, their newspapers, on Twitter etc . and checks the content pool to see if it is likely that the influencer will find a piece of the organisations collateral interesting or useful.
When this is the case, the influencing opportunity is flagged up to the marketing team and they can now engage the influencer in an appropriate way, but do so in the knowledge that there is a very good chance that the influencer will not only thank them for bringing relevant material to his or her attention but also quote, mention or evangelise the organisation’s material to the influencer’s constituency.
The case study
To test this with academic publications we teamed up with The Open University and loaded 4,200 publications from Open University’s repository into an Onalytica IRM solution. For Influencers we loaded approximately 600 UK based “local leaders” including politicians, journalists, think tanks and public policy bloggers.
In the space of 4 weeks the solution flagged up over 970 opportunities where an influencer is likely to find one or more of the publications interesting or useful.
A few examples:
Peter Hitchens wrote an article titled “General Conversation on History and Religion” which was matched with the publication by Michael Saward titled “Democracy and competing values”.
The system also suggested an alternative publication from Saward of potential relevance.
Another example was a blog post by Lord Norton of Louth titled “Promoting citizenship education”.
Based on the content of this blog post the system suggests that Lord Norton might find the publication “Citizenship Studies: An Introduction” relevant.
Channel 4 News posted a piece titled “How will the new benefits cap work?”.
Based on this article the system suggested that the writer is likely to find this chapter from the book Women relevant.
The chapter “examines the government’s approach to fairness in a Comprehensive Spending Review and shows that it fails to acknowledge that men and women start from unequal positions, and that there are many barriers to social mobility other than lack of educational qualifications.”
These examples demonstrate that the traditionally most time consuming and non-scalable element of socialising your publications – finding the right opportunity to pitch the right publication to the right influencer – can be better streamlined and automated through technology, which again means that the University’s PR department can spend their time engaging with influencers in a highly relevant manner and not spending significant time looking for good opportunities to engage.
From analysis of the effect of influencer programs in businesses we know that the uplift in mindshare (awareness) and earned media attention in the market place often lies in the range of 3x-9x. If those results are transferable to higher education impact efforts and the new REF 2014 weighting it would result in a very substantial improvement of the REF score.