Research Impact

Relevant, credible, and independent research is essential for good scrutiny and debate. Within the Scottish Parliament, research is used for many purposes including committee work, constituents’ enquiries, and preparing for debates. 

Since January 2018, the Scottish Parliament Information Centre (SPICe) has been working with colleagues from the other UK legislatures to inform the development of guidance and assessment criteria for REF 2021. 

What is REF?

The Research Excellence Framework (REF) is the system for assessing the quality of research in UK higher education institutions (HEI). The results determine the amount of funding received by each HEI.

What is the purpose of REF?

• To provide accountability for public investment in research and produce evidence of the benefits of this investment.
• To provide benchmarking information and establish reputational yardsticks, for use within the HE sector and for public information.
• To inform the selective allocation of funding for research.

How is REF carried out? 

The REF is a process of expert review under the guidance of four main panels. Expert panels are made up of senior academics, international members, and research users. 

For each submission, three distinct elements are assessed: the quality of outputs (e.g. publications, performances, and exhibitions), their impact beyond academia, and the environment that supports research.

Research Impact Briefing

SPICe has been working together with colleagues from the House of Commons, the Welsh Assembly and Northern Ireland Assembly to produce a ‘Research Impact and Legislatures’ briefing that describes the work of legislatures and the ways that research is used. 

It gives examples of research impact and suggests evidence that can be used to demonstrate impact on legislatures. It is based on a 2017 study of the use of research in the UK Parliament, analysis of impact case studies from the previous REF in 2014 and the perspectives of staff working in research and information services in the other legislatures.

This briefing has been cited directly in the draft guidelines on submissions and panel criteria recently published by the four UK higher education funding bodies. This guidance seeks to ensure that the four UK higher education funding bodies and REF panel members have a clear understanding of what impact means for Parliaments and Assemblies across the UK.   

SPICe will continue to work together with colleagues at other UK legislatures and with UK higher education funding bodies on the issue of research impact and will update our webpages as and when information becomes available.

How does SPICe use research?

Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) work in a complex and fast-moving environment, often experiencing information overload. They often need answers to specific questions, usually work to tight timescales, and need access to trusted information on complex issues from a range of sources. 

It is the role of SPICe to provide impartial and confidential research and information services to the Parliament and to do this we need to access many types of sources and evidence. Research can be used by SPICe to support Members’ work in committees e.g. to inform committee inquiries; in debates in the Chamber i.e. to scrutinise the budget; in support of constituents or to help prepare for meetings or public speeches.

If you are looking for more information on academic engagement within SPICe please contact us via


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