UK-wide funding to maximise impact of social and economic research

A young man and woman are sitting in a computer lab. The woman is helping with a computer project.

New £40 million investment will boost the societal and economic benefits from social science research.

Thirty-two research organisations across the UK will benefit from the Economic and Social Research Council’s (ESRC) support through five-year Impact Acceleration Accounts (IAAs).

IAAs enable research organisations to support a wide range of social, economic and behavioural science impact activities.

The funding generates greater benefits from research, helping create a more prosperous, inclusive, healthy and secure society.

Network of research organisations

ESRC Interim Executive Chair Professor Alison Park said:

The social, behavioural and economic research we fund helps us understand how we live and how society functions, throwing new light on how best to tackle our most pressing challenges.

This investment creates a network of research organisations with dedicated funding to support and accelerate the impact of this research.

We have already seen the benefits of previous rounds of IAA funding, which have leveraged an extra £52 million from partners ranging from local government to private business.

This new cohort of 32 research organisations in receipt of IAA funding is the largest and most diverse group ESRC has funded.

I look forward to seeing how these investments maximise the impact of social science research.

Flexible funding over five years

Research organisations awarded an IAA are empowered to use the funds flexibly and responsively, aligning with their strategic aims, to unlock the value of their existing social science research.

This can take many forms. Initiatives delivered by previous rounds of funding include examples of:

  • place-based projects to further develop research impact at a local level
  • commercialisation of social science research and the creation of new partnerships with business
  • supporting charities and public sector organisations to deliver better services

Previous ESRC IAA funding rounds have been highly successful in attracting additional investment.

For every £1 million invested by ESRC, an additional £1 million was leveraged back into knowledge exchange and impact from 6,560 non-academic partners, including businesses, charities, local councils and other partners.

Engaging the public with research

Research organisations that are awarded ESRC IAA funding also participate in ESRC’s annual, UK-wide Festival of Social Science.

The 2022 festival connected more than 14,250 people across the UK with social, economic and behavioural science.

Examples of IAA impact across the UK

Improving care homes in the south of England

A project at the University of Southampton developed a framework to support person-centred care in care homes.

IAA funding enabled the project team to work with Brendoncare, a registered charity that runs care homes.

Brendoncare developed an online educational programme for staff and residents’ relatives based on the framework they had developed.

The project team then delivered the programme to care home staff, secured a further 12 months of funding to roll it out in other care homes, and identified and included a second industry partner.

Feedback from participants in trials has been highly positive, with staff requesting more training, and multiple positive changes in care practices have been reported.

Lead researcher Jackie Bridges, Professor of Older People’s Care, said:

The IAA allowed us to raise awareness of the importance of access to everyday objects for older people in long-term care through the provision of online training for care home workers.

Better understanding disorders of consciousness

Researchers at Cardiff University used ESRC IAA funding to develop an online e-learning course to provide guidance and training for healthcare professionals to improve understanding of prolonged disorders of consciousness.

This enabled them to provide better help and support for patients and families of those in vegetative or minimally conscious states.

There are estimated to be more than 60,000 patients maintained in vegetative and minimally conscious states in the UK.

These patients are either entirely unconscious or have moments of very limited and fragmentary awareness. They have very poor prognoses but can be maintained indefinitely.

There is increasing recognition, accelerated by this research, of failures in care provision.

The impact of the research work that underpinned this online course was recognised in 2021 when it was awarded the Outstanding Public Policy Impact award in ESRC’s annual Celebrating Impact Prize.

Social robots in Scotland

A team at the University of Glasgow had already developed an innovative ‘social robot’ to encourage effective handwashing in schools. But with the emergence of COVID-19, new challenges needed to be tackled.

As a result of the ESRC IAA funding, the team were able to:

  • improve the accuracy of the early-stage version of the robot so that more children washed their hands properly
  • secure proof of concept funding to develop the robot further
  • undertake valuable learning on intellectual property strategy so that the team can maximise the scale of their impact
  • sustain engagement with key project partners CENSIS and Glasgow City Council

Creative science education in the north of England

At the University of Leeds, ESRC IAA funding enabled Dr Briony Thomas to extend her Creative Science in Schools project.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, young people often did not truly understand what was happening.

Dr Thomas wanted to support teachers in discussing issues related to the pandemic in school.

The IAA funding allowed the team to co-create a cross-curricular learning programme that brought together creative arts and science teachers.

The children provided questions that they wanted to ask scientists, which were used to shape the educational activities.

This empowered the children with the knowledge to answer their own queries and challenge the information they received.

Dr Thomas’ team also ran these creative activities at the Otley Science Fair in November 2022 to connect with families in a different way at a new location.

Dr Thomas received an invitation to deliver a talk for the World Health Organization on using arts to communicate science during the pandemic.

There are plans to take the project nationwide.

Destigmatising dementia in Northern Ireland

Queens University Belfast used some of their ESRC IAA funding to foster greater understanding of dementia.

With input from those living with dementia, nurses and children researchers developed a co-designed digital game.

The Dementia Awareness Game challenged stereotypes and empowered young people to engage more effectively with family members with dementia.

This work promoted positive attitudes and reduced stigmatising attitudes that could have a detrimental effect on the wellbeing of people living with dementia.

Further information

The institutes receiving ESRC IAA funding in this round are:

  • Aston University
  • Cardiff University
  • Coventry University
  • Durham University
  • Institute for Fiscal Studies
  • King’s College London
  • London School of Economics and Political Sciences
  • Newcastle University
  • Queen’s University Belfast
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • SOAS University of London
  • Swansea University
  • University of Bath
  • University of Bristol
  • The University of Edinburgh
  • University of Exeter
  • University of Glasgow
  • University of Hertfordshire
  • University of Huddersfield
  • University of Leeds
  • University of Leicester
  • University of Liverpool
  • The University of Manchester
  • University of Oxford
  • The University of Sheffield
  • University of Southampton
  • University of Stirling
  • University of Strathclyde
  • University of Surrey
  • The University of Warwick
  • University of York
  • University College London

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

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