Researchers whose work has made a real difference to society or the economy were celebrated at the Economic and Social Research Council’s (ESRC) annual Celebrating Impact Prize awards ceremony at the Royal Society on 9 July.

The Impact Prize, now in its seventh year, recognises and rewards ESRC-funded researchers who have achieved impact through outstanding research, knowledge exchange activities, collaborative partnerships and engagement with different communities. Each winner was 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. 

The ESRC encourages and supports social scientists to maximise the impact of their work to ensure that independent, high-quality research informs decisions across a wide range of policy areas, and helps make a difference to people’s lives in the UK and around the world. For example, by enhancing economic competitiveness of the UK; improving public services; raising standards of living and health; contributing to the development of UK policy; driving innovation or improving management practices of businesses; helping a particular group in society; or helping societies in other countries. 

To reflect this diversity there are four different categories with the winners chosen from a shortlist of submissions that was selected by a panel of experts. The panel also awarded £2,500 each to the winner of the Future Promise and Panel’s Choice prizes.

Professor Jennifer Rubin, ESRC Executive Chair said: "All our finalists have demonstrated the impact of their work and illustrated its relevance and importance to society. They are already contributing to policy debates in their specialist areas and hopefully their influence will continue for many years to come.”

The winners of the 2019 Celebrating Impact Prize are:

Outstanding Early Career Impact (in partnership with SAGE publishing)

Winner: Dr Shona Minson (University of Oxford)
Delivering Guidance on the Sentencing of Mothers: safeguarding children's rights and wellbeing
Dr Minson’s research on how the sentencing of mothers affects children has changed practice for judges, magistrates and Probation Officers, who now consider how children will be affected by their parents’ sentence. It led to changes in guidance from the National Probation Service on Pre-Sentence Reports. The March 2019 guidance states for the first time that probation officers must request an adjournment for a full Pre-Sentence Report in cases where the defendant has child dependants, to assess the impact on them and to ensure that plans are in place so children are cared for during imprisonment.

Finalist: Dr Chloe Holloway (University of Nottingham)

Outstanding International Impact

Winner: Professor Nic Cheeseman, University of Birmingham with research team members Professor Gabrielle Lynch, University of Warwick, Professor Justin Willis, University of Durham, and Dr Susan Dodsworth, University of Birmingham
Strengthening elections and accountability in new democracies
Professor Cheeseman’s research on legislatures and political parties has strengthened practice towards over 30 developing countries worldwide, while findings on vote manipulation is helping to safeguard elections. Different aspects of the pioneering Deep Election Monitoring (DEM) model developed by the researchers have been adopted by governments and international organisations seeking to promote democracy around the world, including in Kenya, Ethiopia and Nigeria. The DEM model is also being adopted by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in several countries in Africa, to better monitor, support and improve the quality of elections.

Outstanding Public Policy Impact

Winner: Professor Susan McVie, University of Edinburgh and Professor Lesley McAra, University of Edinburgh
Edinburgh Study of Youth Transitions and Crime: Increasing the age of criminal responsibility in Scotland
Findings from the 20-year Edinburgh study of 4,300 young people underpin a radical change in policy to counter youth offending by shaping the ‘Age of Criminal Responsibility (Scotland) Bill’ which was passed in the Scottish Parliament in May 2019, raising the age of criminal responsibility (ACR) from eight to 12 years of age. The accompanying policy memorandum directly referred to the Edinburgh Study of Youth Transitions and Crime (ESYTC), which was the only academic research cited.

Finalist: Professor Steve Martin (Wales Centre for Public Policy) and team

Outstanding Societal Impact

Winner: Professor Kate Reed, University of Sheffield, Dr Elspeth Whitby, University of Sheffield and Dr Julie Ellis, University of Huddersfield
Challenging taboos and changing practice: the case of baby-loss and post-mortem 
Research into non-invasive infant post-mortem using MRI imaging has changed NHS training and post-mortem care processes, increased uptake in post-mortem consent by parents, and initiated new bereavement support groups. The research findings have been used to provide better information to parents about the post-mortem examination at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which now includes details of the personal care that hospital staff give to babies.

Finalist: Professor Louise Archer (UCL Institute of Education) and team

Future Promise prize

Winner: Dr Chloe Holloway (University of Nottingham)
Research makes police custody more ‘autism-friendly’
Research into how autistic individuals are affected by police custody has led to new autism guidance for all police in the East Midlands, shaped the design of ‘autism-friendly’ custody cells, and changed police practice in supporting neurodivergent individuals in custody. Research findings formed the basis of specialist autism training for over 80 police detention officers in Nottinghamshire, highlighting areas in the custody process where changes in practice were required. Following the training, police officers reported feeling better equipped to support autistic individuals, through changing practice such as asking direct, specific questions, avoiding physical touching during the custody process, and adapting the custody environment by adjusting lighting and reducing noise.

Panel’s Choice prize

Winner: Professor Louise Archer (UCL Institute of Education) with ASPIRES colleagues Dr Julie Moote, Ms Emily Macleod, Dr Jennifer DeWitt and Professor Becky Francis 
Sparking science diversity and participation with science capital 
Increasing young people’s participation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) is a priority for the education sector, government and business sector in the UK and worldwide – not only to boost economic competitiveness, but also to support equality, social mobility and fairness.

The ASPIRES research has significantly impacted STEM education policy and practice, changing the emphasis from ‘increasing interest’ to ‘building science capital’, where teachers can use pupils’ everyday experiences and demonstrate how science is relevant to all aspects of life and work. Evidence from schools implementing the Science Capital Teaching Approach showed significant increases in student science capital (particularly among the most disadvantaged students) and the percentage of young people planning to take 1+ science A levels.