REF2021-blog

Why now?

The UK funding bodies have recently published initial decisions (REF2017/01) for the development of REF2021 and have now opened sub-panel nominations which include a specific role with duties related to IDR. The procedures announced in the initial decisions are designed to support and promote the fair and equitable assessment of IDR outputs and environment through:

  • the inclusion of Interdisciplinary Research advisers on each sub-panel (sub-panel member nominations are now open: REF2017/03)
  • the continuation of the optional IDR flag
  • the inclusion of a specific IDR section in the environment template.

These initial decisions were informed by consideration of a large body of recent work undertaken in engagement with the community considering the interdisciplinary research landscape and critical input from the Interdisciplinary Research Advisory Panel (IDAP).

A new IDR role – what might it look like?

The new IDR adviser role will involve:

  • contributing to the development of panel criteria and working methods (for those appointed at the criteria-setting stage)
  • providing oversight of the assessment of IDR elements within each submission
  • the assessment of submissions (outputs and impacts)
  • engaging with the broader network of advisers.

By sharing experiences across this network it is hoped that best practice will be readily disseminated across all sub-panels.

Who will these IDR advisers be?

Interdisciplinary research is a diverse area. The advisers could come from a variety of research backgrounds: for example they may have experience of publishing IDR, managing complex IDR projects, leading IDR initiatives or research in the area of IDR practice. Advisers will bring specific interdisciplinary research expertise to the panels, supporting equitable assessment across all types of output.

Why make these changes?

IDR is an increasingly important part of the UK and global research landscape. In order for a national research assessment system to confidently say it is assessing the full diversity of research, the procedures and infrastructure which underpin it need to incorporate all types of research output and impact.

Although post-exercise analysis indicated that outputs flagged on submission as interdisciplinary research in REF2014 scored as well as their single discipline counterparts, we know from engagement with the sector that there was not full confidence within the sector in the submission of IDR to the last exercise. We see this when we look at the volume of declared IDR outputs submitted to REF2014 and the expected population of IDR research as a whole within the UK. We need the community to have full confidence in the assessment of IDR going forward to the next round of the REF.

So… why do these changes matter?

These changes highlight the importance the UK funding bodies place on ensuring equitable assessment across the exercise. The approach to reaching these procedures has involved formal sector consultation and close working with the IDAP and is an example of the value of sector expertise and collaborative approaches to the development of REF2021.

These procedures, alongside the sub-panel member role descriptions and forthcoming detailed guidance on submissions, increase the clarity for institutions and researchers on the structures, processes and approaches that will be taken in the assessment of IDR through the exercise in 2021. Increased clarity will support both confidence and assessors in the process of assessment supporting submission and assessment at different stages of the exercise.

What next?

The nominations for sub-panel members for the criteria-setting stage, including IDR advisers, is now open. We encourage nominating bodies to put forward nominations across the different sub-panel roles (REF2017/03). Once the IDR advisers that will support the criteria-setting stage of REF2021 are in place they will be a critical part in developing the detail of the guidance, structures and processes that will support the IDR advisers in the assessment stage.


Professor Athene Donald is Chair of the IDR Advisory Panel, Professor of Physics and Master of Churchill College Cambridge

David Sweeney is Director of Research and Knowledge Exchange at HEFCE and Executive Chair Designate of Research England