A competition to recognise all research outputs: the hidden REF

Posted by s.hettrick on 7 February 2020 - 9:30am
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By Simon Hettrick, Deputy Director.

The way that the Research Excellence Framework (REF) exercise is conducted overlooks many of the people who are vital to the success of research. That's why we have launched the hidden REF competition, which recognises all research outputs and every role that makes research possible.

The background

Publications rarely name all of the people who make research possible, yet these were the basis for 97% of the outputs submitted to REF 2014. This is not the fault of the REF itself: the guidelines allow submission into a wide range of categories, from software to musical compositions. But with so much funding reliant on the results, universities are highly risk-averse in what they will submit. Publications are well understood in academia, so they are almost the only output submitted to REF – and this means the work of many people goes unrecognised.


The hidden REF competition will recognise all contributions to research. To make sure that we include everyone, we will start with the non-publication categories of output used by the REF but, over the course of the next few months, allow anyone who works in research to suggest categories that have previously been overlooked. If these are popular with the research community, they will be adopted by the hidden REF.

From July 2020, anyone who works in a UK public institution that conducts research (e.g. universities and research laboratories) can submit an output to the hidden REF. Submissions will typically involve a 300 word summary of the output, although more details will be released as we gain a better understanding of the output categories. The submissions will be judged by panels of experts drawn from the research community.

The hidden REF is challenging preconceptions about which roles are important in research – and this is no small task. Fortunately, there are many ways in which you can help. You can raise recognition of the hidden REF at your organisation and on social media. You can contribute to the campaign by volunteering to help or to take a position on a panel. You can suggest a new submission category for outputs and you can, of course, submit an output.

The hidden REF will celebrate all research outputs and recognise everyone that contributes to their creation. If we recognise everyone who is vital to research, we will create the right environment in which to advance it.

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