ESRC is announcing £2.6 million of funding for 13 new projects funded under the Transformative Research call. These projects will run for up to 24 months and commenced on 1 September 2018.

Through these, the ESRC is supporting transformative research ideas at the frontiers of social science, enabling research that challenges conventional thinking, that involves the novel application of theory and methods, that could lead to a paradigm shift in its field, and that has the potential to make a substantial contribution towards social science. The research council sought research that might yield results that would radically change accepted thinking in the social sciences or lead to paradigm shifts: these are ideas that help make the UK one of the world’s most innovative economies.

These projects cover diverse issues, such as human rights, chronic disease, sustainable development of cities and the prevention of child abuse. 

Stephen Parker’s research at the University of West England looks at remodelling artificial intelligence algorithms for predicting child abuse. The question his project addresses is whether risk prediction systems for child abuse are 'fit for purpose' given the concerning longitudinal data showing poor accuracy in child protection outcomes and an unacceptably high number of false positives and false negatives in risk prediction. It sets out a new and transformative means of collating, assessing and extracting consistent information from previous studies and testing them in a consistent and reliable way. The potential exists for scoping a new system which moves algorithmic risk prediction into new territory. The transformative methodology will enable scoping of a risk prediction system that is a reliable indicator of child abuse.

These awards will provide a major stimulus for developments in the social sciences and have the potential to produce significant economic and societal impact.

An innovative example from the awards that is helping the UK meet the needs of an ageing society can be seen in Dr Daniel Holman’s research at the University of Sheffield. This project focusses on how each of the combinations possible from the interaction of gender, age, socioeconomic status, and ethnicity is associated with a particular location in the social structure, which brings with it particular (yet overlapping) resources, policy effects, processes, and types of discrimination. Analysis will identify which intersectional positions are at particular risk of these conditions. Advancing a highly novel biosocial approach offers a significant opportunity for a new approach to tackle the growing chronic disease burden negatively affecting the lives of many older people, but especially those in particularly deprived positions. 

Professor Jennifer Rubin, Executive Chair of ESRC said: “We are delighted that these 13 applicants have secured backing for their genuinely transformative research projects. The insights from these standout projects will challenge conventional thinking, and push the boundaries of a range of social science disciplines and topic areas. By working at the frontiers of social science these projects have the potential to have significant instrumental and conceptual impacts across academia, economics, and society.”

The full list of awards are as follows:

  • Understanding the extent of and limitations to conscientious objection by health care practitioners to abortion
    Professor Valerie Fleming, Liverpool John Moores University 
  • Quantifying Cities for Sustainable Development: Transforming urban data collection to support research and policy making in developing countries
    Dr Sean Fox, University of Bristol
  • Social Sciences, Social Data and the Semantic Web (S3W)
    Professor Susan Halford, University of Bristol
  • Chronic disease and healthy ageing at the intersections: social locations, biomarkers, and health practices
    Dr Daniel Holman, University of Sheffield
  • Why are we social? Mapping the development of social motivation through adaptive sampling
    Dr Emily Jones, Birkbeck College
  • The future of human rights investigations: Using open source intelligence to transform the documentation and discovery of human rights violations
    Dr Yvonne McDermott, Swansea University
  • Pioneering a New Method for Investigating the Neural Correlates of Ageing Effects during Natural Reading
    Professor Kevin Paterson, University of Leicester
  • The 'risk of risk': remodelling artificial intelligence algorithms for predicting child abuse
    Mr Stephen Parker, University of the West of England
  • Listening to the Zoo
    Dr Tom Rice, University of Exeter
  • Quantitative network analysis of appointment diaries
    Professor Neil Rollings, University of Glasgow
  • Data Justice in Mexico's Multiveillant Society: How big data is reshaping the struggle for human rights and political freedoms
    Dr Ernesto Schwartz-Marin, University of Exeter 
  • Reanimating data: experiments with people, places and archives
    Professor Rachel Thomson, University of Sussex
  • MobilES - Using mobile-phone technology to capture ecosystem service information 
    Dr Simon Wilcock, Bangor University