This presentation looks at the how legal researchers in the UK have sought to have impact and what lessons might be learned from their experience.  It does so with a particular eye to the future, looking at the implications for researchers, law schools, universities and funders, as well as the ways that users of research might be affected for better or worse.  Among the matters it will consider are the extent to which attention to the UK experience might translate to the Australian context, and across social sciences and humanities disciplines more widely than just Law.     

Rather than focussing on what impacts researchers have had (which was the concern of the UK government’s Research Excellence Framework, where impact now counts for 25% of a REF score), the key focus will be on how researchers had impact. This is crucial because understanding how impact occurs is critical if research is to effectively inform law, policy and practice. Existing scholarship on impact has theorised the way impact occurs, but there is a dearth of information about practice, especially in law.

Using the REF 2014 data and original data generated from surveys of researchers named in law case studies (n=121) and research directors in UK law schools (n=32), the presentation will first look at how researchers engage with UK governments, providing insights into access, processes, challenges and resources. Successful engagement and impact in government are far more dependent on chance than is appropriate or necessary and the dominance of the ‘research impact’ model is flawed, with ‘researcher impact’ providing a better framework. 

Turning to the implications of these findings, the presentation will consider how the impact agenda is affecting research areas, questions, design, co-production, methods, dissemination, and relationships with research users and research participants. It then examines some of the wider strategic questions that have arisen and the points of tension and stress that lie ahead, whether engaging with governments, parliaments, courts, civil society, business or other stakeholders.  These include issues regarding the medium-to-longer term the feasibility and integrity of research that engages policy stakeholders as participants, gatekeepers to participation by clients, or as research users. 

Presenter biography

Lawrence McNamara is a Reader at the University of York and a Senior Research Fellow at the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law.  He works across a range of rule of law issues and has published and presented widely on matters relating security, transparency and accountability, and the roles of and relationships between the judiciary, the executive, parliament and the media in these areas. He has held ESRC and British Academy research fellowships as well as other external research funding.

Following ten years as an academic in Australian universities, Lawrence moved to the UK in 2007 to take up a post at the University of Reading.  From 2013-2017 he stepped out of academia and was Deputy Director of an NGO, the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law (a part of the British Institute of International and Comparative Law, a registered charity and independent research organisation in London).  Since 2017 he has balanced two part-time posts, returned to academia at the University of York, where he is also the Law School’s impact lead, and retaining a role at the Bingham Centre.

Lawrence’s research has seen him engage widely with law and policy communities.  This has included giving written and oral evidence to UK Parliamentary Select Committees. A number of his recommendations for safeguards to be inserted into the Justice and Security Bill in 2012 were debated were debated in Parliament with some now included in the Act.  His recent publications include “Understanding research impact in law: The Research Excellence Framework and engaging with UK governments” (2018) 29(3) Kings Law Journal 437.


Sir Harry Gibbs Moot Court (247)
Level 2, Forgan Smith building
The University of Queensland
St Lucia campus