The winners of the annual Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Celebrating Impact Prize have been announced at a special awards ceremony held yesterday evening in central London.

The Prize recognises and rewards researchers whose work has made a significant difference to society or the economy, be it through outstanding research, collaborative partnerships, engagement, or knowledge exchange activities. Each of the five winners were awarded a prize of £10,000 to be spent on furthering knowledge exchange; public engagement; or other communications activities to promote the economic and social impact of their research.

There are many different ways in which social science can change our society for the better, for example through contributing to the development of UK public policy; improving management practices of businesses; or helping a particular group in society. To reflect this there are four different categories, as well as a prize for the Impact Champion - an individual who has been nominated for supporting and enabling others to achieve impact.

Dr Alan Gillespie CBE, Chair of the ESRC said: “The ESRC focuses on supporting the highest quality independent research with the power to aid growth, promote innovation and shape society. By encouraging and supporting ESRC-funded researchers to maximise the impact of their work, we ensure that their research has a significant impact across all policy areas and helps make a genuine difference at the local, national and international level. All of our winners and finalists should be congratulated on having achieved significant impact and making a real difference to so many lives here in the UK and beyond.”

Natalie Aguilera, Publisher, SAGE Publishing comments: “The work carried out by social scientists is pivotal in not only developing, but also challenging academic disciplines and facilitating progressive conversation around key issues. Support for the value of social sciences has been, and continues to be, a core belief of SAGE’s supporting academics through their research journey. We are delighted to once again support the ESRC in their championing of social science research through these pivotal awards which give a platform to the voice of scholars who will continue to shape our collective future.”

The winners of the 2016 Celebrating Impact Prize are:

Outstanding Early Career Impact (in partnership with SAGE Publishing) SAGE

Dr Kath Murray, University of Edinburgh

For her policy reforming work in understanding the Scottish police force’s day-to-day application of the stop and search policy. Dr Murray’s work has shown that Scotland has exceptionally high levels of stop and search incidents; the majority of which lacked legal authority. Following the publication of her work, the Scottish Parliament passed the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill, which included a provision to regulate stop and search powers.

Outstanding International Impact

Professor Melissa Leach, Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex (team application).

For work understanding the Ebola crisis, informing the UK and international response to Ebola in West Africa. Professor Leach’s team delivered fast and accurate advice on policy and practice surrounding the challenges of the Ebola outbreak. Forming the Ebola Response Anthropology Platform, they produced over 40 briefings for DFID, MOD, Christian Aid and others; and their website formed a valuable collaboration tool for global anthropological networks in this field. The site provided advice on identification of cases; funeral arrangements; clinical trials; and addressing the on-ground threat to health workers.

Outstanding Impact in Public Policy

Dr Rachel Aldred, University of Westminster

For the impact of her public policy work on cycling cultures and infrastructures in London. Dr Aldred set up a network of stakeholders and organised events with local and national leaders, challenging the traditional models of transport that often make assumptions about transport choices. Working with TfL, DfT and the Welsh Government Dr Aldred’s work has achieved commitments to improve ‘cycle-proofing’ and moved the perception of cycling from one of individual choice to a system or service.

Outstanding Impact in Society

Professor Theresa Gannon, University of Kent (team application).

For the impact of her team’s programme which helped understand the needs, and standardise treatment of firesetters. Conducted in prisons and hospitals, Professor Gannon’s work recognised that firesetters are psychologically distinctive and require specialist treatment. Professor Gannon’s team’s research resulted in the development of treatment manuals and training for over 400 staff members with correct treatment practices.

Impact Champion

Ms Briony Turner, King’s College London

During her PhD Ms Turner has worked tirelessly to draw connections between researchers, from numerous public engagement events and supported engagement with the wider world. Her work developing the Intrepid Explorers programme and the subsequent links with the Royal Geographical Society enabled it to reach into schools, engaged students and inspired them to think about the world through travel and exploration. Through sharing tales of fieldwork and on-location research Ms Turner demonstrated her commitment to breaking down barriers between researchers and the general public.

The winners were chosen by a panel of experts which consisted of:

  • Professor Annette Boaz, Centre for Health and Social Care Research, Kingston University
  • Martin Coleman, ESRC Council member and Global Head of Antitrust, Competition and Regulatory Practice at Norton Rose LLP  
  • Vanessa Cuthill, ESRC Deputy Director for Evidence, Impact and Strategic Partnerships (Panel Chair)
  • Professor Tim Dafforn, Chief Scientific Adviser at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and Professor of Biotechnology, School of Biosciences, University of Birmingham
  • Graeme Nicol, SME consultant
  • Andrew Shaw, Evaluation Advisor, Department for International Development (DfiD)
  • Jane Tinkler, Head of Social Science, Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) at the time of judging and now Senior Prize Manager, Nine Dots prize.

Professor Tim Dafforn, Chief Scientific Adviser at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and a judge on the panel said: “I was really surprised and heartened by the amazing breadth of projects that were entered for the ESRC Impact Prize. The quality really shows that impact is alive and well in the social sciences!”

Fellow judge Professor Annette Boaz, a researcher at the Centre for Health and Social Care Research, Kingston University added: “This year, I was particularly impressed by the standard, breadth and depth of the applications we reviewed. As with previous years, shortlisting was a tough job! It was a pleasure to meet the shortlisted candidates at interview and to hear their rich accounts of the hard work they had put into achieving impact.”

Vanessa Cuthill, Deputy Director for Evidence, Impact and Strategic Partnerships at ESRC, said: “This year, as in previous years, the standard and breadth of applications was impressive. But what really brought the impact of the research we are supporting to life was meeting the applicant alongside the end user of their research, and hearing how valuable that relationship is.  I hope that in future years the sector will continue to promote and encourage impact, and we will see even more exciting applications showcasing the value of social science research.”