New ESRC awards to support social science advice for local policy

Destinations United Kingdom

11 pilot projects are testing ways to strengthen local policy makers’ access to evidence, data and expertise, addressing challenges from net zero to levelling up.

Many of UK’s biggest challenges require local intelligence, evidence and action, including net zero, supporting innovation, levelling-up, and addressing inequalities.

The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is committed to working with and supporting collaboration between social scientists and local policy makers to address these challenges. Also to increase the availability of evidence to help shape local solutions that improve outcomes for people and places.

Awards made under a new pilot local acceleration fund (LAF), totalling nearly £1 million, will support researchers to work in partnership with local areas across the length and breadth of the UK.

The awards will support meaningful collaboration between researchers and local authorities, charities and businesses. They will address policy priorities that make a difference to local areas, including:

  • net-zero
  • local economic growth
  • levelling up.

Complex local challenges

This fund highlights the critical role of the social sciences in understanding and addressing a variety of complex local challenges. The work builds on a portfolio of research and innovation activity funded by ESRC which aims to address inequalities in the UK.

Learnings from the fund will inform ESRC’s future approach to investing in locally focused projects that enhance opportunities for collaboration and improve access to research, evidence, data and social science expertise. This is to inform local policy making.

The six-month pilot projects will complete in summer 2022.

Find out more about ESRC supported research which addresses place-based challenges and local policy making.


Professor Alison Park, Interim Executive Chair of ESRC said:

We are delighted to announce funding for 11 pilot projects, which will demonstrate the breadth and relevance of social science research to the UK’s place-based challenges.

These projects demonstrate the critical role that collaboration and co-creation play in bringing together complex local challenges with social science expertise in order to make a difference in local communities.

The Local Acceleration Fund will inform ESRC’s next steps in supporting social scientists to collaborate with local stakeholders, including local authorities, charities and businesses, through people, partnerships and research.

The 11 grants

Brokering partnerships and building capacity to accelerate challenge-oriented innovation across the Cardiff Capital Region (CCR)

Cardiff University, £50,000

The programme will extend the work of an existing partnership between Cardiff University and the CCR that is developing and delivering a local wealth building challenge fund to enable growth, innovation and resilience across the region.

Collaboration in Durham (CID)

Durham University, £65,000

This project will strengthen collaboration between Durham University and Durham County Council (DCC), developing joint working structures and relationships.

Building on existing activity, the project will explore local health and inequality challenges, including building an evidence base for DCC’s sports and physical health strategy. The project will also scope activity to support an effective response to the climate emergency.

Supporting local acceleration in Granton through inclusive, data-driven and participatory engagement

University of Edinburgh, £73,000

This University of Edinburgh project will support the development of local authority and stakeholder capabilities.

The aim is to test, refine and deploy tools which support participation and engagement from community stakeholders, specifically underrepresented groups in the urban regeneration process. The project will support and inform the work of the Granton Waterfront Development (GWD).

Children, learning and inclusive places (CLIP)

University of Glasgow, £111,000

Building on existing partnerships the University of Glasgow and Queens University Belfast, the project will evaluate:

  • community engagement practices
  • impact and practice in deprived communities.

This is to help improve local policy related to children, place and the environment. The project will enable inclusive and locally owned strategies to address enduring economic social challenges for communities.

Better financial modelling: making the IFS local government finance model available to councils

Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), £63,000

This project will support collaboration between Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) and the District Council Network.

The aim is to develop and roll out a model of the English local government finance system, supporting councils to plan and manage budgets better, facilitating better service provision and outcomes for local residents.

Work place: the changing nature of work in London

King’s College London, £75,000

The project will enable local policy engagement and impact with a range of public, business, and other stakeholders.

The aim is to deliver insight, evidence and innovative policy suggestions to tackle the issue of the ‘return to workplaces’ in the context of London’s post-pandemic economic recovery.

Advancing and evaluating ecosystem performance in the Morecambe Bay Electech Cluster: an innovation catalyst intervention

Lancaster University, £62,000

The innovation catalyst will develop collaborations between Lancaster University and local stakeholders across the public and private sector to support innovation and build capacity for future engagement and collaboration.

The project will accelerate the emerging Electech innovation cluster in Morecambe Bay to support innovation and contribute to local economic growth.

Leeds local acceleration project

University of Leeds, £70,000

A University of Leeds and Leeds City Council collaboration supporting local authority use of research and data through three projects:

  • data accelerator community engagement to meet place-based inequality and deprivation challenges
  • school meals pilot to raise awareness and reduce carbon footprint from school lunches
  • online collaboration hub for identification of local policy challenges amenable to research and data driven solutions.

They will undertake public engagement, test approaches to data use in practice and create infrastructure for effective longer-term collaboration to support local need.

Local acceleration fund 2021

University of Leicester, £171,000

The University of Leicester and De Montfort University will work with local stakeholders in five priority policy areas, including:

  • education and skills
  • business and the economy
  • health and wellbeing
  • environmental sustainability
  • arts, culture and heritage.

The collaborations will support stakeholders to develop local action plans to improve evidence-informed policy making against each of these areas.

Realising North East Ambition (ReNEA)

Newcastle University, £75,000

This work will address a regional challenge of economic inactivity by identifying and developing local, evidence-driven intervention strategies to secure better outcomes for young people’s employment and career progression in North East England.

This will contribute to national priorities including:

  • levelling-up
  • reducing regional inequalities
  • local resilience
  • net zero
  • local innovation.

Real-time data and evidence to understand local conditions, needs and potential

University of Nottingham, £61,000

This project will create a national real-time data resource using geographical data to understand local conditions, needs and opportunities relating to levelling up.

Using underlying data from the TrackTheEconomy dashboard, this resource will support local stakeholders to evaluate the effects of interventions on local outcomes (in the medium term).

Further information

About the LAF

The primary aim of the LAF is to catalyse social science evidence‐driven local insight which can inform actionable policy solutions that impact local lives, communities and economies.

This can facilitate connectivity, collaboration and capability building across stakeholders.

The LAF is a pilot programme which supports ESRC impact acceleration accounts to:

  • develop collaborations and coproduction between research organisations and local stakeholders
  • develop and deliver innovative and substantive solutions‐led approaches, evidence synthesis or translational activity that positively impacts local lives, communities and economies.

The programme enables researchers and local stakeholders to conduct activities essential to effective local research and public policy partnership working at a local level.

The LAF aims to support locally focussed research and knowledge exchange activity built on meaningful collaboration between researchers and public policy stakeholders.

By supporting research organisations, researchers and stakeholders to pilot approaches ESRC is ensuring that future activity is informed by in-practice experience in the social sciences.

Top image:  Credit: akinbostanci, Getty Images

This is the website for UKRI: our seven research councils, Research England and Innovate UK. Let us know if you have feedback or would like to help improve our online products and services.