Area of investment and support

Area of investment and support: Developing methodological capability in the social sciences

ESRC invests in methodological innovation to ensure that researchers have the methodological skills and tools needed to respond to research challenges in a changing, interdisciplinary research and funding environment. This includes developing new methods and building capability across the social science research community.

Partners involved:
Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)

The scope and what we're doing

ESRC has invested in (and continues to support) methods development and innovation over a long period of time, most notably through the training and research delivered through the National Centre for Research Methods (NCRM). The council has also invested through their centres’ competition and responsive mode schemes.

The evolving research landscape necessitates further methodological innovation and development. For example, looking at:

  • what methodological developments are required to take advantage of, and address the challenges with, the use of new and emerging forms of data for the social sciences
  • whether artificial intelligence and machine learning can enhance social science research

Why we're doing it

ESRC’s delivery plan sets out their ambition to extend the investment they make to develop the skills and knowledge needed for social scientists to undertake high quality, impactful research.

Opportunities, support and resources available

Browse upcoming training courses, online resources and events on the National Centre for Research Methods (NCRM) website.

Past projects, outcomes and impact

ESRC research methods development grants (2020)

Working in partnership with Administrative Data Research UK (ADR UK), ESRC invited grant proposals to develop methods to support the social science community and researchers to work collaboratively across sectors and disciplines to address common methodological challenges.

Overall, 14 grants were funded with the aim of helping researchers and social scientists to develop their research practice:

Additionally, grants were funded through the ADR UK strategic steer, including:

Find out more about the grants funded through the strategic steer (ADR UK).

Building quantitative skills capability

Q-Step was a £19.5 million initiative funded by the Nuffield Foundation, ESRC and Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), designed to promote a step-change in quantitative social science training in the UK.

Over a five-year period from 2013, Q-Step supported 15 Q-Step centres at universities across the UK to support the development and delivery of specialist undergraduate programmes. These included:

  • new courses
  • modules
  • a broad range of summer schools
  • research placements and internships.

Most of the Q-Step centres also engaged in outreach work to schools to support teachers and encourage student recruitment. The reach of the programme was increased to include groups of departments in a further three universities that demonstrate a high level of commitment to the aims of Q-Step.

These departments were granted ‘affiliate’ status and were awarded funding for student bursaries for short courses and work placements associated with their revised training provision.

An evaluation of the initiative was published in May 2022. Key findings included that:

  • students who take ‘Q-Step’ quantitative skills modules during their social science degrees have better earning potential than students on similar courses
  • Q-Step is helping to address the shortage of graduates with the skills to apply quantitative methods in both research and professional settings
  • Q-Step equips students with a deep and secure grasp of the skills needed to make sense of data, and a grounding in the ways that data can be used to better understand society
  • the programme has also increased quantitative teaching capacity at participating universities, and has prompted a range of further investment and initiatives designed to boost quantitative methods across these institutions, as well as in other universities and educational organisations
  • student satisfaction levels for Q-Step programmes are high as a result of good quality teaching and work placements.

See the full evaluation report (Nuffield Foundation).

Stand Out and Be Counted

Stand Out and Be Counted signals the value of data-handling skills to undergraduate students. Produced in partnership with the British Academy and Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) and aimed at students in the social sciences and humanities, the guide sought to challenge many of the myths that surrounded quantitative skills.

The booklet illustrates the concrete steps that can be taken to become adept at handling numbers and statistics, and contains personal stories from journalists, entrepreneurs, charity workers, lecturers, PhD candidates and civil servants.

Who to contact

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Last updated: 17 October 2022

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