The power of research evaluation: How REF 2021 has changed how we measure research impact and kick-started a research communications revolution at The University of Manchester

Lynda McIntosh - United Kingdom

Lynda McIntosh, MCIPR

Award-winning, solutions-focused leader with over 15 years of higher education experience in research communications, marketing and engagement. Work creatively to develop campaigns, events and stakeholder engagement to promote research. Draw on data and an understanding of an organisation’s business objectives to offer strategic advice and the most effective communications and marketing solution.


• Strategy development                                  • User research and content strategy

• Budget and resource planning                       • Digital marketing

• Publications                                                  • Campaign planning

• Project & event management                        • Reputation management                             

• Stakeholder engagement                              • Internal communications



Research Communications and Marketing Manager
Division of Communications and Marketing, The University of Manchester-Oct 2019 to present

Research Communications and Marketing Manager - Jan 2014 to present
Faculty of Humanities, The University of Manchester  

Communications and Marketing Manager/Officer
Sustainable Consumption Institute, The University of Manchester - Jul 2009 – Dec 2014
National Institute for Health Research School of Primary Care - Jul 2007 – Jun 2009
National Primary Care Research & Development Centre - Jan 2005 – Jun 2009

Key responsibilities (current)

  • Lead the coordination of Research Excellence Framework (REF) communications and the development of a research communications strategy for REF 2021;
  • Co-chair REF Comms Hub to ensure requests for communications and marketing support, training and evidence are managed in a timely and efficient way across the University;
  • Lead and develop a research communications and marketing strategy for the Faculty of Humanities to ensure that research-related communications and marketing activity supports the University’s Research Strategy and Communications and Marketing Plan; and
  • Evaluate and monitor the effectiveness of our research communications support through the development of key performance indicators (KPIs) and ensure that they are in line with higher education and research standards across Russell Group universities.


  • Established a Faculty-wide research communications and marketing network;
  • Created a Faculty-wide creative identity project (Humanities: In Focus) to profile world-shaping researchers;
  • Developed first University Research Communications Conference to upskill staff and develop a one-team approach;
  • Social media campaigns on sustainability, data, and ageing-related research with successive increases in engagement;
  • Developed a social media reporting template to provide research directors easy-to-use analytics;
  • Secondment with the Greater Manchester Combined Authority’s GM Ageing Hub to provide communications advice, develop stronger links, and to promote the University‘s research on ageing; 
  • Secondment with Policy@Manchester (P@M) to support the Head of Communications and Marketing, embed P@M’s training provision within Learning and Development, and to mentor the Policy Communications and Engagement team.


  • Making a Difference Award for Social Responsibility 2018 for Outstanding Contribution to Environmental Sustainability.

Session introduction

In 2020, higher education institutions across the UK will submit their research for the most comprehensive research evaluation exercise in the country - the Research Excellence Framework (REF). Assessed every four or five years, the REF process is led by the Research Directorate with Communications and Marketing teams historically being brought in to communicate the results. Please join me to hear how we measure impact and how The University of Manchester is breaking down silos and developing a one team research communications function that integrates two university functions that have always worked side by side, but often seem worlds apart.  

The session will cover:  

1)     Research impact landscape in the UK

  • Brief overview of the Research Excellence Framework and how it works in the UK
  • How the impact of our research (societal, economic and financial) is changing how we evaluate the quality of our research
  • Impact – what it is and isn’t! 

2)     Challenges of bringing two very different worlds together - Research and Communications and Marketing

  • Benefits of working closely with research teams to create more robust and more targeted campaigns
  • What comms and marketing colleagues can do to support the REF from the beginning
  • How we work with our Library team to underpin our campaigns with specific research outputs (papers, books etc.)  

3)     Responsible use of metrics

  • Challenges of measuring impact (time lag, non-linearity of/different routes to impact etc)
  • Altmetrics, emerging alternative metrics and role of Open Access
  • Challenges of finding robust and meaningful metrics to measure reach and significance

In order to bring the discussion to life we will work through an interactive activity to develop an understanding of how communications professionals can contribute to the impact agenda.

Session in-depth

Interactive Activity

Aims:   To help illustrate research impact and to get participants thinking about communications activities from the research user perspective.

Pose a challenge to attendees to plan a communications activity that delivers impact to a group of potential research users (beneficiaries).

Group exercise starts a slide that gives an overview of the activity.

Members break into small groups and are given different case studies to read. These will be 100 word summaries of research impact case studies, written in a non-academic style.

The group then follows these instructions (on the slide):

1. Review an impact case study summary.

2. Refer to the beneficiaries slide and think about who within each category would benefit from hearing about this research. Note your ideas on a piece of paper (3 mins).

3. Discuss them in small groups and agree which are the most important two beneficiaries for each category. Write them on the sheet. (5 mins)

4. Choosing one of these stakeholders/beneficiaries come up a creative communications and/or engagement idea or campaign that would effectively communicate this research to this group. Be as original as you like - anything goes!

5. (5-6 mins) Feedback to the whole group.

6. Prizes!!!