Impact, innovation and interdisciplinarity expectations - ESRC

We fund excellent research. The primary criterion is scientific quality. We expect our portfolio to include a diverse range of research encompassing, amongst other things, work based on single disciplines, research which combines disciplinary approaches, research focused on advancing scientific theory, and research aimed principally at developing practical applications.

As part of this portfolio, we encourage research applications which demonstrate one or more of innovation, interdisciplinarity and impact.


We expect that our researchers will have considered the potential scientific, societal and economic impacts of their research.

Applicants should actively consider how these impacts can be maximised and developed in their proposal, and this will form part of the peer review and assessment process.

Guidance is available on including impact plans in research proposals. Further guidance can be found in the ESRC Impact Toolkit.

Opportunities for making an impact may arise, and should be taken, at any stage during or after the course of the research. It is important that researchers put in place a robust strategy for maximising the likelihood of impact opportunities arising and their own capacity for taking advantage of these.

Careful consideration of impact is an essential component of research proposals and a condition of funding.

Excellent research without obvious or immediate societal or economic impact will not be disadvantaged in the peer review and assessment process. Researchers who feel that this relates to their research should, however, explain their reasoning in their proposal.


We are keen to support research which is ambitious (but clearly specified) and has the potential for high scientific impact and/or high user impact. We also recognise that such research may carry a higher than normal risk of failing to deliver the full range of expected research outputs.

Such research is likely to:

  • use innovative or even untested methods within the context of the particular project
  • attempt to develop or to test and apply new theory
  • be carried out by researchers without a proven track record in the area of the proposed research, although they may have a strong track record in other areas
  • be complex in terms of its management and delivery because of its size or the dispersal of the research team or fieldwork
  • investigate a potentially controversial or sensitive topic
  • involve multiple or unusual disciplinary combinations both within and beyond the social sciences
  • involve accessing or creating data, or accessing research participants or other related research material which could be highly problematic
  • challenge existing paradigms in respect of research ethics


As part of our portfolio, we also expect to support new and exciting research which combines approaches from more than one discipline. We recognise that many of the most pressing research challenges are interdisciplinary in nature, both within the social sciences and between the social sciences and other areas of research. However, we also remain committed to the support of excellent research within a single discipline.

Last updated: 16 June 2022

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