Fit for the Future – Leadership and Social Sciences

On 10 June 2020, ESRC published Fit for the Future: Research Leadership Matters, a report on research leadership in the social sciences by Professor Matthew Flinders. Responding to the report, ESRC Executive Chair Jennifer Rubin said:

The ESRC welcomes this report and thanks Professor Flinders, as well as all those who contributed through the consultation. The strong engagement from the sector has been a feature of this work; it signals the timeliness of the report and the appetite for change.

We are committed to enhancing social science leadership capability. This is reflected in our Delivery Plan, where it is included as a key priority. As Professor Flinders sets out in his report, the funding landscape is changing; we are seeing a shift towards increasing numbers of larger, collaborative and challenge-orientated projects that reach across disciplinary, sectoral and international boundaries.

We need to reflect on the capabilities we are developing in our researchers and how we support them in the future. We need to ensure that we have a strong pipeline of researchers who can lead – and work within – these types of major projects and play a vital role in developing open and inclusive research cultures and practices.

ESRC is currently considering the report and its twelve recommendations carefully. Some of these would entail specific action for the social sciences, others imply work across UKRI and other stakeholders. Over the coming months we will develop a full response and action plan, taking into account our understanding of the impact of COVID-19.

About ‘Fit for the Future’

Developing social science leadership capability is one of ESRC’s strategic priorities. The funding landscape is going through a period of rapid change and we want to support social scientists to take advantage of the opportunities that are now available to them.

The ‘Fit for the Future’ project was announced in 2018 in the light of this rapid change, recognising a specific leadership challenge for the social sciences. Designing, leading and delivering, and simply working within large, complex ‘team-science’ projects demand skills that have often not been required or incentivised within the social sciences. This leadership challenge has implications for how the social sciences think about researcher development more generally; how it nurtures and sustains intellectual curiosity and creativity throughout the full professional journey; how it cultivates and rewards ambassadors for the social sciences and how it might combine a fresh approach to talent management and building research leadership capacity with UKRI commitments in relation to inclusion, diversity and equality.

Last updated: 31 March 2022

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