Area of investment and support

Area of investment and support: Managing our portfolio and priorities

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) manages its portfolio and priorities to maintain the UK’s world-leading position in engineering and physical sciences research, aligning the portfolio we support to areas of UK strength and national importance.

Partners involved:
Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)

The scope and what we're doing

Managing our portfolio and priorities (MoPP) is EPSRC’s evolved approach to balancing capability. Our aim is to promote a more future-focused strategy, through evidence-based analysis, data and knowledge.

EPSRC has a proactive engagement approach to managing its portfolios and priorities in partnership with the research community and stakeholders including the academic community, business, charities and other funders. Through our continuous engagement with stakeholders we collect information and evidence about the current UK research, training and innovation landscape. In partnership with our strategic advisory bodies and key community members, we synthesise this information and evidence into intelligence and knowledge about the landscape across engineering and physical sciences, and use it to set strategies for our portfolios and priorities.

How our approach has evolved

In July 2018 EPSRC moved to delivering its Balancing Capability strategy through an ongoing process of portfolio monitoring and evidence collection, in order to enable a more responsive approach to managing portfolios and setting strategies. Continuous engagement enables EPSRC to regularly review and evolve strategies in response to a rapidly changing landscape. This approach maximises opportunities to advance new and emerging research areas that arise from challenge-driven and discovery-led fields, and provides clear routes for our stakeholders to engage with us on a regular basis.

EPSRC is a knowledge-led organisation and values input from stakeholders to make evidence-based decisions. This ongoing monitoring approach to MoPP will ensure that EPSRC maintains its strong evidence-based culture, making the UK the best place in the world to research, discover and innovate.

How we set and monitor portfolio strategies

We set evidence-based strategies for each of our research areas, which are developed and monitored in partnership with our research and stakeholder communities with key input from our strategic advisory teams. The gathering and analysis of evidence from a range of sources is key to the development, monitoring and delivery of all of EPSRC’s strategies.

EPSRC continuously gathers evidence about the UK engineering, physical sciences, mathematical sciences and information and communication technologies (ICT) research landscape through broad engagement with the research and broader stakeholder communities as well as via the continuously open call for evidence.

EPSRC’s research area strategies are developed based on knowledge of the whole UK landscape developed through engagement with the community, collection of the best available evidence (such as EPSRC’s own data, funding from other bodies, international reviews and other reports) and advice from key groups and individuals such as our strategic advisory teams, learned societies and industry partners.

EPSRC reviews its evidence and intelligence about the research landscape on a regular basis in partnership with our strategic advisory bodies and considers whether the articulation of a research area needs to be updated in the context of the evidence base available. Such changes are likely to occur where changes in the research and funding landscape have an impact on research areas.

Evidence base

A key component of portfolio management at EPSRC is gathering evidence about the current UK research, training and innovation landscape from stakeholders including the academic community, business, charities and other funders. This evidence is used to develop and monitor evidence-informed portfolio strategies.

MoPP is embedded through all of EPSRC’s business. To support this approach, EPSRC has an open call for evidence which provides an opportunity all year round for engineering and physical sciences stakeholders, through their organisations, to provide input on research areas, and is in addition to the usual ways EPSRC gathers evidence which include:

  • evidence that has been published in the form of a report or publication – for example, international reviews, learned society reports and industry sector reports
  • potential future opportunities – for example, horizon scanning
  • community engagement activities – for example, workshops or university visits
  • EPSRC portfolio data – for example, submission rates, balance between research and training
  • community engagement through theme portfolio managers.

How we use the evidence we gather

Evidence collected through stakeholder engagement and the call for evidence is used to continuously develop EPSRC’s intelligence and knowledge about the current state of the engineering and physical sciences landscape.

Working in partnership with our strategic advisory bodies and key community members, we use evidence to identify areas of UK strength, areas or aspects of areas that may require further attention and to identify opportunities.

View evidence sources used to inform our research strategies.

Why we're doing it

EPSRC manages its portfolio and priorities in order to maintain the UK’s world-leading position in engineering, the physical sciences and computational and mathematical sciences research. We seek to align the portfolio of research we support to areas of UK strength and national importance, while continuing to invest in creative and ambitious research that has a high impact for the UK.

As the UK’s largest funder in engineering and physical sciences research, it’s vital that we continually review our portfolio to ensure it is balanced and effective in the long term.

Recognising that we have a finite budget, it’s vital we balance our investments strategically across our whole portfolio and continue to make strategic interventions, where necessary, to ensure the long term health of the research base, balancing this alongside research targeted towards identified priorities.

Opportunities, support and resources available

Past projects, outcomes and impact

Since 2019, EPSRC has updated the strategies of 23 research areas, having taken into account:

In addition to updating research area strategies, since 2019, EPSRC has also closed three research areas. All existing grants in closed research areas remain active.

Displays

This area was closed and removed from the research area taxonomy.

A small research area in 2016, it had decreased further. Display innovation and development is now less about the underpinning optoelectronics and more about how people engage and interact with displays. Closing this area sees it fully integrated with other research areas to take advantage of opportunities presented by enhanced image processing and manipulation, and holographic displays.

Resource efficiency

This area was closed and removed from the research area taxonomy.

Discussions with members of the research community, and a review of grants coded to the research area, indicated that resource efficiency is a driver for research rather than a standalone research area. This is further exemplified by the fact that in all the research proposals submitted to EPSRC which include resource efficiency, it was always a secondary area to another portfolio.

As drivers, resource efficiency and sustainability are reflected in the rationales of appropriate research areas.

Complexity science

EPSRC made the decision to embed complexity science across the EPSRC portfolio in order to better emphasise the importance of a systems approach. Although complexity science no longer appears as a discrete area in EPSRC’s taxonomy, complexity remains an important part of the EPSRC portfolio. Emphasis is now focused on the domain area, and complexity science’s contribution to that domain area.

EPSRC continues to encourage research using complexity science approaches and grants with complexity science relevance are distributed across the relevant domain areas, recognising the novel contribution to those domain areas. All current grants in this area remain active.

This change followed the publication of the report on complexity science in December 2017. This review highlighted that over the past 10 years, complexity science approaches and methodologies have become ever more embedded in other areas of research. EPSRC has consolidated this report and its recommendations with internal EPSRC data, ongoing community engagement and input from the strategic advisory teams and members of the Strategic Advisory Network.

Who to contact

You can contact either of these people:

Sarah Harman, Head, Managing our Portfolio and Priorities

Email: sarah.harman@epsrc.ukri.org 

Diane Howard, Senior Manager, Managing our Portfolio and Priorities

Email: diane.howard@epsrc.ukri.org

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