Terms of reference

Purpose

Strategic advisory teams (SATs) exist to provide the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council’s (EPSRC) theme leaders with the strategic advice they need to develop, implement and modify plans. SATs are regarded as a flexible resource, enabling theme leaders to obtain the advice they need in a timely manner, drawing on a range of perspectives from across our key stakeholder groups.

The stakeholder perspectives likely to be most represented across all SATs are:

  • academic
  • users of research, including business, third sector and government
  • upstream societal and ethical engagement
  • others including third sector, government and representative bodies.

An important principle governing the function of SATs is the separation of the provision of strategic advice from delivery and decision-making by the executive. SAT members are individually and collectively responsible for the advice they provide. The theme leader works across EPSRC to deliver the theme contribution to EPSRC’s strategies, drawing on the range of inputs received, including SAT advice. The theme leader is responsible to the chief executive for the decisions made.

The strategic advisory teams provide advice for the executive (through the theme leader).

Scope

Each SAT is expected to:

  • act as a body of advisers to EPSRC, with a primary affiliation to one theme area, helping to ensure that the skills and research base are there to support the advancement of knowledge and the future needs of business and society
  • provide an early alert to the EPSRC on priority and emerging issues, contributing to the development of strategy within and between themes and at corporate level
  • alert EPSRC to new and emerging research and training opportunities, including international opportunities
  • act as a sounding board for the early development of relevant policy and priorities, ensuring that policy development is appropriate and has credibility
  • help with two-way communication between EPSRC and the research community
  • on occasion, provide input as a matter of urgency on specific topics as requested by EPSRC’s chief executive.

Membership

Members are drawn from EPSRC’s stakeholder groupings. They are expected to bring a broad strategic view to the table, and to act as ‘generous generalists’, advising across the breadth of the theme. They are not required to act as representatives of their own organisation, research area or sector.

All members are required to declare any personal, private or commercial interests that might conflict with the interests of EPSRC, and must withdraw from any discussion of topics in which they have such an interest.

Declaration of interests by the Strategic Advisory Team.

Nominations and recruitment

Every year, EPSRC issues an open call for self-nominations, and also invites nominations from key stakeholder groups.

Based on the competencies and characteristics required for the vacancies, the executive identifies those it might wish to appoint. The Appointments Assurance Committee (AAC) has oversight of all appointments of EPSRC’s strategic advisers, including SATs. This committee considers and reviews the executive’s proposals and the rationale for these recommendations, challenging as appropriate, and reviews the appropriateness of the recruitment process. The AAC is ultimately responsible for confirming and ratifying appointments.

Term

Membership is generally for three years, with the possibility of extension of up to three years. To ensure maximum flexibility and long-term continuity across the membership of the SATs, EPSRC staggers the terms.

Operation

Theme leaders and their teams engage SAT members in a number of ways, both formally and informally. Formal SAT meetings take place up to three times a year, with at least one meeting scheduled in spring or summer and another in the autumn. Where possible, the timing of SAT meetings across themes is aligned, although for logistical or strategic reasons this may not always be possible. In addition and as the need arises, SAT members may engage in:

  • EPSRC-led workshops (as a participant or speaker)
  • mentorship
  • round-table discussions with stakeholders
  • working groups (theme-specific or cross-EPSRC).

Quality assurance

EPSRC relies on the quality of the strategic advice it receives. This provides an external check on the development of EPSRC’s direction and plans. A member of the SAT chairs the team’s meetings primarily to ensure that the reported outcomes accurately reflect the nature of the advice received, and that all present at the meeting discharge their roles appropriately.

The advisory function of SATs is separated from:

  • the responsibility for decisions made by the executive
  • the independent peer review processes managed by EPSRC.

Expectations

Theme leaders receive input from a range of sources, such as senior management in universities, business partners, academic researchers, international partners, government and other UK agencies. They work with their colleagues to synthesise these different inputs so that they understand the nature of the challenge, opportunity or issue arising and to decide on the action needed. Expectations should be considered in this wider context.

Through the theme leader, the executive endeavours to:

  • provide information so that SAT members are adequately briefed and can contribute meaningfully
  • provide forums and tools for members to provide appropriate, high-quality strategic advice
  • maintain members’ knowledge of all theme activities, and EPSRC strategic thinking and direction by facilitating the flow of information between the SAT and EPSRC Council
  • be clear about the information SAT members can share more widely and that which is provided in confidence
  • inform members about the outcome of their advice and how it is used and, in particular, explain the rationale where the advice has not been followed
  • raise the profile of the work of SATs, and disseminate summaries of SAT discussions to inform the broader community, including making notes of SAT meetings publicly available in an appropriate format.

The members of the SAT endeavour to:

  • act within the seven principles of public life, in particular to provide independent, informed advice avoiding actual or perceived conflicts of interest, and to take a collegiate approach to policy and strategy development
  • act as ‘generous generalists’
  • constructively challenge or validate EPSRC’s perspectives, drawing on the available evidence and their own experiences
  • take individual and collective ownership of the advice they provide whilst recognising the separation of that advice from responsibility for the decisions made (which rests with the executive)
  • work as a team with other SAT members and EPSRC, and be proactive in bringing forward issues and opportunities to the attention of the theme leader.

They are also expected to use their profile as SAT members to improve two-way communications with and between their respective stakeholder communities and, where appropriate, with decision-makers. For example:

  • gathering intelligence that can be brought to bear in policy development
  • explaining EPSRC policies to the community
  • advocating on specific issues on behalf of the engineering and physical sciences
  • attending formal meetings of the entire SAT.

The chair of the SAT endeavours to:

  • work with EPSRC staff and SAT members to ensure that SAT meetings are run in accordance with the frameworks described above
  • provide advice to EPSRC in advance of SAT meetings
  • work in partnership with EPSRC and members of the SAT to develop the forward plan of possible discussion topics for future meetings
  • ensure that all SAT member views are heard at SAT meetings, the recorded advice is representative of the views expressed, and all present discharge their roles appropriately.

Last updated: 31 March 2022

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