Leadership is one of the strategic areas that underpins ESRC’s capability and funding. The funding landscape is going through a period of rapid change and social scientists must be suitably prepared to take advantage of the opportunities that are now available to them.

We have provided further information about the changing funding landscape and how you can prepare yourself for the opportunities it provides:

Opportunities for social science

The planned increase in research and development spending that has been announced by the government, and in some areas is already underway, represents a huge opportunity for the social sciences. And yet it also demands an explicit recognition that the nature of publicly funded scientific research is changing rapidly towards a focus on projects that unite four elements:

  • they are ambitious and complex
  • they are international in scope
  • they reach across traditional disciplinary boundaries
  • they include explicit and clear relationships with potential research-users from the outset. 

Put slightly differently, major funding will increasingly focus on the nexus between both scientific disciplines and between academic and non-academic user communities.

About the ‘Fit for the Future?’ project

The ‘Fit for the Future?’ project was announced in 2018 and focuses on the changing nature of research leadership in a rapidly changing research funding context. The project is led by Professor Matthew Flinders from the University of Sheffield. 

The project will run throughout 2018-2019 and is working closely with the other research councils within UKRI and also with a number of external academic and non-academic organisations, within and beyond the UK, in order to generate fresh thinking. 

Aims of the project

The nature of research funding is changing and the UK needs a research and innovation system that is ‘fit for the future’ in terms of responding to opportunities and challenges in a positive and strategic manner.  

A critical element of this focus on being ‘fit for the future’ is ensuring that the appropriate blend of leadership skills are nurtured and incentivised within the social sciences. 

The aim of this project is to work with a wide range of partners to design an ambitious and agile new research leadership and talent management strategy. This strategy will seek to achieve institutional and cultural change, placing the social sciences at the forefront of professional excellence within UKRI and within the international scientific community more broadly. The ‘Fit for the Future?’ project is focusing on professional capacity-building within the social sciences as it relates to research leadership skills and expertise. 

Project principles

  1. Greater alignment: the need to drive social science leadership capacity towards the evolving needs and priorities of the UK science base
  2. Institutional positioning: reform must complement, sit within and contribute to evolving broader ESRC/UKRI strategy statements
  3. The professional journey: building explicit and ambitious research leadership throughout the full career path in a manner that emphasises key transition points and acknowledges the role of research support staff 
  4. A twin track: an approach to research leadership and talent management that combines a focus on building broad leadership capacity alongside a more focused talent management strategy 
  5. Equality, diversity and inclusion (ED&I): interpreting the need to build leadership capacity as an opportunity to refresh and re-energise ED&I plans
  6. Efficiency and incentives: increasing the scientific value and public relevance of investments demands focused interventions alongside new incentive frameworks 

How you can get involved

There are several ways that you can get involved in the project and ensure that you have your say. We will publish an online ‘call for evidence’ where we will seek views from the social science community. Your contributions to this call will provide us with valuable information to inform our leadership and talent management strategy.

In addition, Professor Flinders will be undertaking a large number of institutional visits, speaking at a number of conferences and events, hosting focus groups with specific sections of the academic community, and publishing a number of discussion articles to promote debate and discussion. These events and resources will provide you with valuable information about the project and how you can help shape it.  

Further information

If you have any questions, please email Professor Flinders: m.flinders@sheffield.ac.uk