Kudos Pro: a competitive edge for REF 2021 (Research Mobilization)

August 22 2019 / By Charlie Rapple

A more competitive world

REF_2021_logo_News_imageUniversities are facing ever more competition for funding and ranking in reputational tables. Small differences in performance can have a significant financial impact, which of course has further effects in terms of a university’s potential to create and share knowledge in the service of society.

Measuring research quality, impact and the reputation of the institution behind these activities is notoriously difficult and not without controversy. While the ‘how’, ‘what’ and ‘why’ of this will continued to be argued over, that doesn’t help universities facing the reality of that measurement and what this means for them today.

UK universities are particularly under pressure here, with over £1.6b of annual funding up for grabs based on their rankings in the REF (Research Excellence Framework). Research impact is a core component of that assessment (driving 20% of a university’s ‘score’ for REF 2014), with impact defined as “an effect on, change or benefit to the economy, society, culture, public policy or services, health, the environment or quality of life, beyond academia”. Now REF 2021 is underway, impact has been increased to a weighting of 25%. Clearly, impact assessment is here to stay for UK universities.

Small performance differences have large financial impacts

With so much research funding at stake, competition to demonstrate impact and optimize quality indicators (e.g. citations) is set to get tougher for REF 2021. Universities have a lot to gain (or lose) – quite literally, millions of pounds in funding for an individual university, as this summary of REF 2014 ‘winners and losers’ demonstrates. Competition is set to be especially fierce at the 3- to 4-star boundary for impact case studies, as acknowledged recently by Steven Hill from Research England. Everyone has learned, from REF14, what it takes to reach the high scores, so universities need to dig even deeper if they are to edge ahead. In the same article, Professor Mark Reed (Fast Track Impact / Newcastle University) comments that:

“the key difference I see between the top-end case studies being prepared for REF2021, compared to the best case studies from REF2014, is the quality of evidence they provide for their claims ... the best case studies I am seeing are making the causal chain clear and evidencing each link in the chain beyond reasonable doubt.”

At Kudos, we’ve long held the view that there is enormous potential for acceleration of research impact. While there are various tools available to ‘measure’ impact – and huge progress has been made on this front since REF2014, with the emergence of a wider range of indicators and service providers – measuring performance doesn’t necessarily help with improving performance.

Measuring performance doesn’t necessarily help with improving performance

As measurement improves, attention is shifting towards influencing those measures in a positive direction. This is a need uniquely served by our research communications platform, Kudos Pro. It is the only service that joins the dots between engagement / impact activities and outcomes to create a virtuous circle of performance improvement. This next REF is likely to see gains for those universities working more directly on their performance, and who are skilled not only at measuring, but at optimizing citations and impact too.

How can Kudos Pro help REF teams optimize their submission?

Kudos is an online service – launched in 2014 – for collaborative, multi-channel management of research dissemination, engagement and impact. Kudos is used by over 300,000 researchers, associated with 10,000 institutions, in 190 countries all over the world – who together have used Kudos to drive over 60 million views of their work. Kudos users are based in some of the most prestigious institutions in the world.

Kudos Pro is a new service, launching next month, that is set to transform research communications. Kudos Pro can be used by researchers to accelerate and increase the impact potential of their work – and provide evidence of this to funders, institutions and to enrich REF impact case studies. Central REF and communications staff can have oversight of researcher activities and results to assist them in improving visibility and engagement with key stakeholder groups.

Capture the “breadcrumb trail” that leads to impact

Kudos Pro can help improve the visibility of key projects / initiatives and capture evidence of the “breadcrumb trail towards impact” that is being cited as the critical differentiator between 3- and 4-star case studies in REF 2021. Estimates of the value of impact case studies suggest that the average value of a 4-star case study in REF 2014 was £46,300 of funding per year, as opposed to £10,700 of funding per year for a 3-star case study (i.e. an additional £35,600 or 332% increase per case study). Given the range, the value difference is in some cases even higher – with the upper range at £83,000 for a 4-star case study vs £18,000 for a 3-star case study.

Taking a more structured, strategic approach to optimizing visibility and engagement is a critical component in upgrading case study 'performance'. We've built Kudos Pro to provide researchers and REF units with a toolkit specifically designed to help with this – an easy way to showcase research for different target audiences, along with a planning wizard to guide you through planning the most effective ways to engage those audiences, and tools for managing the execution of that plan, and measuring / report on its results.

For an average sized department of REF Unit of Assessment, Kudos pays for itself if even one case study achieves a higher score.

Increase publication downloads and citation potential

Meanwhile, output scores (based on factors that include publication citations) drive 60% of a university’s REF profile. With REF 2021 requiring “all staff” with significant responsibility for research to be included in the return, universities can’t choose their impact superstars, as they could for REF 2014. Once again, therefore, as we approach REF 2021, those universities that put effort into optimizing output performance could gain ground. There remains a valuable 18 month window for universities to improve output scores, which can in part be achieved by increasing the readership that drives citations. Can Kudos help here? Yes – Kudos has been independently proven to increase growth in publication downloads by 23%, while other studies have shown, in turn, a strong correlation between downloads and citations.

Help researchers save time, money and get better results

In a recent survey, to which over 7,000 researchers responded, we found that researchers spend on average 2.5 hours and week and 3.6% of their funding on communication and impact activities. This adds up to significant time and expenditure across a university. Channeling this into activities that support a university’s overall performance and contribute positively to its reputation has clear benefits. Kudos Pro provides researchers and research office staff with a broad range of comparable indicators of performance across multiple activities and channels to optimize this effort.

Kudos Pro isn’t “just another research admin system”. It’s a global, multi-channel communications and impact management tool that can be used to generate information to help populate central university systems and reduce the admin burden on researchers in logging and tracking communication activities and impact. Kudos integrates with other services that researchers use, such as ResearchFish, ORCID, and manuscript submission systems. Kudos Pro also helps researchers learn new skills and adapt to the new impact culture – not just for REF 2021, but well beyond.

To explore how Kudos Pro could be used in support of your institution's REF 2021 return, please:

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