How ESRC supports collaboration


How we support innovation

Social science has a vital role to play in every stage of innovation. It provides critical insights for knowledge exchange and development of products and processes benefitting businesses, policymakers and organisations.

The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) funds new research, data and skills that helps create the best conditions for a thriving innovation ecosystem.

Our innovation activities are focused in three main areas:

  • understanding how innovation happens
  • working with businesses
  • creating the conditions for social scientists to commercialise their activities

Understanding how innovation happens

We support fundamental, discovery-driven research on innovation and productivity. Our responsive research funding, data infrastructure and training provisions support high-quality research on innovation.

How the research we fund is supporting the UK’s productivity

In close collaboration with policy and business partners, we have developed an ambitious productivity research agenda. We are building a powerful evidence base around what works in innovation through over £40 million of investments, including The Productivity Institute and the Programme on Innovation and Diffusion.

These investments aim to improve our understanding of the economy and improve day-to-day life in the UK and around the world.

Making UKRI and our research system more innovative

The Innovation and Research Caucus, delivered by ESRC and Innovate UK, is a network of innovation and research experts. They conduct research and work with UKRI to increase the use and influence of robust evidence, insights and thought leadership in UKRI’s strategies, processes and interventions.

The caucus plays a vital role in providing UKRI with powerful insights into what works, where and why, to help us provide the best possible support to the UK’s outstanding research and innovation system.

Working with businesses

Our ambition is for the UK to be a global leader in supporting business and social science partnerships.

By working with social scientists, businesses are able to adapt, learn and grow sustainably. This includes businesses understanding:

Working more closely with businesses also helps the social science community develop new insights and improve the evidence base for business innovation. Collaborations help unlock access to vital data for research purposes and important insights into how research can translate into practice.

Our business engagement activities have four aims we wish to achieve:

  • the social science community and businesses see value in engaging with each other and are empowered and supported to seize opportunities, at all career stages
  • key stakeholders, such as knowledge exchange professionals, have an excellent understanding and enthusiasm for the opportunities that business engagement with the social sciences has to offer
  • successful business engagement with the social sciences is valued, shared and celebrated
  • there is an evidence base on what works, and a shared understanding of the value and impact of social scientists engaging with businesses

Activities and funding for business engagement

Business Insights webinars

In partnership with Innovate UK Business Connect we have delivered a COVID-19 ‘What works for work’ and a behaviour change webinar series. They addressed themes such as future work models, inclusive business policies, the circular economy and driving positive behaviour change towards a net zero economy.

Impact Acceleration Accounts

Our ESRC Impact Acceleration Accounts provide opportunities for businesses to build links with researchers and research organisations.

Encouraging business collaborations

Through our funding opportunities, businesses can collaborate with researchers to secure funding for new research and innovation activity that generates evidence and helps them think in challenging new ways.

Created by the National Centre for Universities and Business in partnership with UKRI, konfer is an online tool that helps businesses find opportunities for collaboration including researchers, facilities, equipment, funding and support.

Hosting a researcher

There are several ways in which businesses can host researchers to work on innovative projects with them for mutual benefit.

Businesses can host a PhD student via a placement through our Doctoral Training Network. This offers an opportunity to collaborate and co-produce knowledge and research, directly benefitting your organisation.

Businesses can employ academic expertise they do not have in-house by being part of a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP). KTPs are part-funded by a grant. Projects will last between 12 and 36 months.

Next Generation Professional and Financial Services Programme

The Next Generation Professional and Financial Services Programme, funded by Innovate UK and ESRC, will help professional service sectors and the financial service sectors to develop and use digital technologies.

Two new social science-led Innovation Adoption Accelerators support businesses in these sectors. The accelerators will design and deliver a targeted and ambitious innovation adoption programme that will collaborate with and support firms directly.

Helping social scientists to commercialise their research

Our ambition is for social scientists and universities to be equipped and able to generate sustained impact from their activities through commercial opportunities. This can include bringing a product, process or service to market.

Our support is focused in four areas:

  • supporting commercialisation through a focus on skills and training, by working with Praxis Auril, doctoral training centres and our Impact Acceleration Accounts (IAA) network
  • providing early-stage commercialisation funding to develop an idea (see What support you can get to commercialise)
  • work with Innovate UK and other partners to develop a longer-term investment pipeline
  • building an evidence base that identifies how commercialisation in social science can be best supported

Activities and funding for commercialisation

Social sciences, Humanities and Arts for People and the Economy (SHAPE) Catalyst

The SHAPE Catalyst is our flagship investment in early-stage commercialisation of social science. Co-funded with the Arts and Humanities Research Council and delivered in partnership with ASPECT ARC, it will help researchers from arts, humanities and social science to explore commercialisation approaches to delivering impact at scale.

Community of Practice

We are building a new Community of Practice, co-funded with Praxis Auril, which is dedicated to supporting knowledge exchange professionals and technology transfer officers on the commercialisation of arts, humanities and social science research and social venture-building.

Last updated: 13 June 2024

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