ESRC announces winners of its 2022 Celebrating Impact Prize

Shot of a group of young businesspeople clapping during a conference in a modern office

Researchers whose work has made an outstanding difference to society and the economy were celebrated at ESRC’s annual Celebrating Impact Prize awards.

The Celebrating Impact Prize awards is part of the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Festival of Social Sciences. The event was live streamed from the Royal Society in London on 2 November.

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

John Hills Impact Prize 2022

This year, ESRC created the John Hills Impact Prize 2022 as a special award category in honour of the late Professor Sir John Hills. He was funded by ESRC over the course of his long and illustrious career.

Professor Hills is remembered across the community for his leadership and his contribution to social policy, particularly in relation to poverty and equality.

The John Hills Impact Prize 2022 will recognise a social scientist:

  • whose work has benefitted wider society
  • who has encouraged or facilitated positive and profound lasting changes in the quality of the lives of a significant number of people over a sustained period

Promoting economic and social impact

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.

The ESRC Celebrating Impact Prize awards ceremony 2022 was held during the 20th ESRC Festival of Social Science. This is a UK wide series of events to promote and increase awareness of the contribution social science makes to the wellbeing and the economy of society in the UK.

Making a genuine difference

ESRC’s interim Executive Chair, Professor Alison Park CBE, said:

The Celebrating Impact Prize has been a flagship event for the Economic and Social Research Council for the past decade.

Over this time, we’ve celebrated many excellent examples of the important role the social sciences play in helping understand and tackle key economic and social challenges, with awards to over 60 outstanding researchers and research teams.

This year’s Impact Prize finalists, and especially the winners, exemplify the insight and support that social science research can produce, helping make a genuine difference at the local, national and international level.

Examples include tackling the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on society, addressing inequality in higher education in different parts of the world, building impactful environmental initiatives and supporting women in the aviation industry.

I was also honoured to mark this year with a special prize, the John Hills Impact Prize 2022, in memory of the late Professor Sir John Hills. Throughout his research career, Sir John demonstrated how social science research can drive positive change.

We are supporting this legacy by awarding a prize in his name to a researcher who, like Sir John, has demonstrated significant impact over a sustained length of time.

I want to congratulate our winners and finalists of this year’s impact prize.

2022 Celebrating Impact Prize winners

The winners of the ESRC 2022 Celebrating Impact Prize are below.

Outstanding Business Impact


Professor Susan Durbin, University of the West of England

Empowering women in the aviation and aerospace industry

Professor Durbin’s research into the under-representation of women in the UK aviation and aerospace industry has led to the introduction of a unique, industry-wide mentoring scheme. The scheme supports women to build their careers in a traditionally male-dominated profession.

Outstanding Early Career Impact


Dr Pamela Buchan, University of Exeter

Harnessing people’s passion for the ocean to protect the marine environment

Dr Buchan’s research into what promotes a willingness to preserve the marine environment has led to a range of initiatives by local authorities, conservation charities and marine organisations. These initiatives are changing people’s relationship with the ocean.


Mr Winfred Dotse-Gborgbortsi, University of Southampton: Improving access to pregnancy and birth services in Ghana

Outstanding International Impact


Team application: Electoral Psychology Observatory
Lead by Professor Michael Bruter, London School of Economics

Improving election fairness and participation

Professor Bruter’s research on the psychology of election participation has shaped understanding of electoral best practices internationally.

His research has led to:

  • more accurate election polling
  • improved election processes
  • better electoral experience for citizens, especially for those who are electorally under-represented, such as:
    • disabled people
    • minority ethnic groups
    • first-time voters

Outstanding Public Policy Impact


Team application: Project 2.5: Issues in the financing of higher education, Centre for Global Higher Education

Lead by Professor Lorraine Dearden, UCL

Transforming university access for poorer students in Colombia

Professor Dearden’s research collaboration has supported radical reforms to Colombia’s university student loan system. From 2023, up to 10,000 poorer students annually will be able to access higher education, while the Colombian government will secure higher revenues from loan repayments over the long term.


Professor Laura Bear MBE, London School of Economics and Political Science: Research influences COVID-19 policy to prioritise social needs of disadvantaged communities

Professor Nicola McEwen, University of Edinburgh: Strengthening intergovernmental relationships between the UK and devolved administrations

Team application: Productivity Insights Network (lead by Professor Philip McCann), The University of Manchester: Network helps tackle UK’s productivity challenge

Outstanding Societal Impact


Dr Daisy Fancourt, UCL

Shaping community responses to the psychological and social impacts of COVID-19

The COVID-19 Social Study provided real-time insight into the psychological and social impacts of the pandemic. These insights shaped national and local COVID-19 policies, helped charities and health organisations support individuals, and informed the public as to how best to protect their own mental health and wellbeing.


Professor David Gadd, The University of Manchester: Shaping national and regional domestic abuse policy and practice

The John Hills Impact Prize 2022


Professor Heather Joshi CBE, IOE, Centre for Longitudinal Studies, UCL

Exposing social inequalities and working to break the cycle of disadvantage

As a leading architect of ESRC’s prestigious longitudinal studies infrastructure, Professor Heather Joshi CBE has made an outstanding contribution to social science. Her influence on government policies relating to women, employment, working families and pensions is evident in the everyday lives of British people across multiple generations.


Professor Jane Millar OBE, University of Bath: Helping UK’s benefits system deliver financial security and stability

Find out more about all winners and finalists.

See this year’s finalist impact films.

Top image:  Credit: PeopleImages, iStock, Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

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