ESRC announces winners of its 2020 Celebrating Impact Prize

Shot of a mature businesswoman clapping and celebrating with other entrepreneurs at a business conference

Researchers whose work has made a difference to society and the economy were celebrated at the Economic and Social Research Council’s (ESRC) annual Celebrating Impact Prize awards.

A digital ceremony took place on 12 November.

The competition, now in its eighth year, recognises and rewards ESRC-funded researchers who have achieved impact through outstanding research, knowledge exchange activities, collaborative partnerships and engagement with different communities.

Each winner was awarded a prize of £10,000 to be spent on furthering knowledge exchange, public engagement, or other communications activities to promote the economic and social impact of their research.

Supporting social scientists

ESRC encourages and supports social scientists to maximise the impact of their work to ensure that independent, high-quality research informs decisions across a wide range of policy areas and helps make a difference to people’s lives in the UK and around the world.

For example, by:

  • enhancing economic competitiveness of the UK
  • improving public services
  • raising standards of living and health
  • contributing to the development of UK policy
  • driving innovation
  • improving management practices of businesses
  • helping UK society
  • helping societies in other countries.

This year the panel also chose to award an additional Panel’s Choice award to recognise a finalist whose work shows great promise and is expected to reach its full impact in the future.

Additionally, ESRC is recognising Professor Lord Richard Layard with a Lifetime Achievement Award to celebrate the outstanding contribution he has made to social science and society in the UK and beyond.

Improving lives

Professor Jennifer Rubin, ESRC Executive Chair, said:

The winners and finalists in this year’s ESRC Celebrating Impact Prize competition have very clearly demonstrated the impact of their work including its relevance and importance to improving lives.

All of these outstanding researchers are already contributing to policy debates in their specialist areas and their influence will likely be felt for many years to come.

ESRC 2020 Celebrating Impact Prize winners

Outstanding Business and Enterprise Impact

Winner: Professor Arjan Verschoor and Professor Ben D’Exelle (University of East Anglia).

Designing insurance to give smallholders a safe way out of poverty.

Research into how Uganda’s three million smallholder farmers perceive risk led to the development of a new drought insurance scheme, subsidised by the Ugandan government.

The scheme now protects more than 225,000 smallholder farmers against the risks to their livelihoods posed by drought, pests and poor-quality seed, and boosts productivity by providing smallholders with the confidence to invest in their farms.

Finalist: Dr Anna Remington (UCL Institute of Education).

Outstanding International Impact

Winner: Ending the Reading Wars (Professor Kathy Rastle, Royal Holloway University of London, Professor Kate Nation, University of Oxford, Professor Anne Castles, Macquarie University).

Employing the science of reading to improve literacy worldwide.

Research outlining the science behind how children learn to read is transforming the way reading is taught in classrooms around the world and helping potentially millions of children improve their life chances through better literacy skills.

Outstanding Public Policy Impact

Winner: ESRC Centre for Population Change, University of Southampton (Professor Jane Falkingham, Professor Maria Evandrou, Professor Ann Berrington, Professor Jakub Bijak, Professor Corrado Giulietti, Professor Peter W F Smith, Professor Athina Vlachantoni, Professor Jackline Wahba, Teresa McGowan, Becki Dey).

Informing policy with better national population data and statistics.

Finalists: Professor Emla Fitzsimons and Dr Praveetha Patalay (UCL).

Outstanding Societal Impact

Winner: Professor Yvonne Jewkes (University of Bath).

Redesigning prisons to foster rehabilitation and hope.

Research into the impact of penal architecture on prisoners and prison staff has changed thinking on custodial design and led to investment in more progressive and innovative prisons in the UK, the Republic of Ireland, Australia and New Zealand.

Finalists: Professor Marianne Hester (University of Bristol), Professor Alice Sullivan (UCL Centre for Longitudinal Studies).

Panel’s Choice

This was awarded by the panel in recognition of a finalist whose work shows great promise and is expected to reach its full impact in future.

Winners: Emla Fitzsimons and Praveetha Patalay (UCL).

Adolescent mental health: improving young people’s lives using evidence from national cohort data.

An estimated 16% of all 14-year olds in the UK in 2015 suffered from mental ill-health. Research which identified the scale of mental ill-health among the UK’s adolescents, and studied its drivers, has focused national attention on the problem, prompting new government policy and strategies for improving young people’s mental health.

Lifetime Achievement

Winner: Professor Richard Layard (London School of Economics and Political Science).

Public policies for employment, skills, wellbeing and mental health.

This year ESRC is recognising Professor Lord Richard Layard with a Lifetime Achievement Award to celebrate the outstanding contribution he has made to social science and society in the UK and beyond.

Through his work as founder and Director of ESRC’s Centre for Economic Performance and currently Co-director of the Centre’s Community Wellbeing Programme, Lord Layard’s research has shown how better wellbeing can improve lives and the economy.

He co-founded the Action for Happiness campaign and his work has resulted in an initiative to improve access to psychological therapies.

The impact of Lord Layard’s work can be seen in education, employment, mental health and climate change and his influence felt in academic research, public policy, community engagement and across the political spectrum.

Further information

1. ESRC Celebrating Impact Prize is an annual opportunity to recognise and reward the successes of ESRC-funded researchers who have achieved, or are currently achieving, outstanding economic and societal impacts.

First run in 2013 and now in its seventh year, the prize celebrates collaborative working, partnerships, engagement and knowledge exchange activities that have led to significant impact of ESRC-funded research. Prize categories are:

  • Outstanding Business and Enterprise Impact
  • Outstanding International Impact
  • Outstanding Public Policy Impact
  • Outstanding Societal Impact
  • Panel’s Choice
  • Lifetime Achievement.

2. This year the panel also chose to award two additional prizes, Panel’s Choice and Lifetime Achievement, to recognise high potential and quality in other finalists’ work.

3. On this year’s panel were:

  • Dr Grant Hill-Cawthorne, Head of the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, UK Parliament
  • Irene Hardill, Professor of Public Policy, Northumbria University
  • Professor Alison Park, Director of Research, ESRC
  • Sufina Ahmad, Director, John Ellerman Foundation
  • John Young, Executive Director.

4. ESRC is part of UK Research and Innovation, a non-departmental public body funded by a grant-in-aid from the UK government.

ESRC is the UK’s largest funder of research on the social and economic questions facing us today. It supports the development and training of the UK’s future social scientists and also funds major studies that provide the infrastructure for research.

ESRC-funded research informs policymakers and practitioners and helps make businesses, voluntary bodies and other organisations more effective.

Top image:  Credit: Adene Sanchez/GettyImages

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