ESRC to radically expand UK behavioural research capacity

£17 million investment will transform the UK’s ability to address major societal challenges using knowledge gained from research into human behaviour.

The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is investing:

  • £10 million to establish Behavioural Research UK (BR-UK), a new hub to connect diverse stakeholders and drive innovation
  • £7 million to establish a Centre for Doctoral Training and Research Excellence in Understanding Behaviours (CENTRE-UB)

Their work will expand expertise and strengthen skills.

They will work closely with policymakers and industry to make sure they can use the most up to date evidence to inform their decisions.

Addressing society’s challenges

ESRC Executive Chair Stian Westlake said:

Successfully addressing society’s challenges requires a deep understanding of how and why people, organisations and groups behave the way they do.

Ranging from how individuals live, work and make critical life choices, to behaviours that enable or hamper innovation and productivity across communities, businesses and the economy.

Behavioural research was critical to the UK’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and our ambition is to build on that legacy.

ESRC’s new investments will boost the country’s capacity.

Together they will generate insights and foster the research skills necessary to facilitate and inform evidence-based decision making by policymakers, industry and civil society.

Broad relevance

Understanding human behaviour is fundamental to how the UK responds to major global challenges, including:

  • climate change and environmental sustainability
  • how we harness positive impacts and mitigate harm from new technologies
  • tackling major health, wellbeing and social care challenges
  • emerging trends or new markets and the economy
  • the security and resilience of the UK

Combined, these two investments will deliver the National Capability in Behavioural Research programme.

This will build world-leading capability in interdisciplinary behavioural research. It will support the UK’s ability to solve major societal challenges.


BR-UK includes representatives from academia, government and business from all four nations of the UK.

It will be led by Professor Linda Bauld of The University of Edinburgh and Professor Susan Michie of UCL.

It will:

  • strengthen relationships between academic and wider stakeholders in the public and private sector
  • facilitate evidence-based decision making through high-impact research that meets the needs of policymakers, industry, and civil society
  • increase the use and linkage of existing data and data infrastructures
  • develop innovative approaches and methods, and involve communities in behavioural research

Building on decades of research

Professor Linda Bauld and Professor Susan Michie said:

BR-UK builds on decades of research to understand and enable change in human behaviour.

The pandemic has highlighted the critical role of context in shaping behaviour.

Understanding societal shifts and people’s responses is vital for governments, businesses and organisations.

Our partnership of academics and knowledge users will generate and translate a breadth of evidence, methods and theory to address current and future challenges.

Our aim is to achieve a step-change in the quality and quantity of behavioural research by providing leadership and support to build interdisciplinary collaborations, effective knowledge translation and capacity development.

With our strong research partnerships and emerging networks, we’ll build enduring structures and activities, ensuring the legacy of our work continues for years beyond this five-year program.


CENTRE-UB will be led by Professor Jessica Woodhams of the University of Birmingham with local, national and international partners from across the public and private sector.

It will:

  • produce PhD graduates able to address the needs of policymakers, business, and civil society
  • develop a cohort of early career researchers able to pursue a career in applied behavioural research within and outside of academia
  • deliver a flexible training and development programme for researchers in government and other sectors that accelerates the use behavioural research findings and methods in local and national decision making

Valuable resource

Professor Woodhams said:

I am honoured to be leading the Centre for National Training and Research Excellence in Understanding Behaviour.

Human behaviour can be the cause of, but also the solution, to many societal challenges and CENTRE-UB will provide valuable resource for the study of behaviour nationwide.

Key to CENTRE-UB is our close engagement and collaboration with non-academic partners in the public and private sectors to positively influence policy and provide improved education for researchers and government.

Achieving strategic objectives

ESRC aims to ensure the full power of UK social science is brought to bear in tackling the most pressing global, national and local challenges.

As part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), ESRC supports interdisciplinary work and implementing ESRC delivery plan commitments that contribute to achieving UKRI’s five-year strategy.

Enabling greater understanding of human behaviour is a key priority in ESRC’s delivery plan and these investments will support a broad spectrum of evidence-based decision making for the benefit of UK society.

Top image:  Credit: LaylaBird, E+ via Getty Images

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