Research infrastructure underpins the UK's social science research 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:

What is research infrastructure?

Research infrastructure refers to the facilities, resources and services that are used by the research and innovation community to conduct research and foster innovation in their fields.  

Research infrastructure includes: 

  • major research equipment
  • knowledge-based resources such as collections, archives and data
  • e-infrastructure such as data and computing systems and communication networks.

Data infrastructure is of particular relevance to ESRC, as we are the main funder of UK social science data infrastructure. Social science data includes surveys and laboratory experiments (which are specifically designed for research) as well as administrative data records, business data and social media data.

Social science data infrastructure includes the collection of data and the services needed to make that data usable. 

Mapping the UK's research infrastructure

UKRI is developing a research and innovation infrastructure roadmap - a strategic plan that sets out an overall vision for research and innovation infrastructure and the major steps needed to achieve it. This programme of work aims to offer enormous benefit in increasing our understanding of the UK's current capability and in planning for the future. This is a challenging task as the UK has never undertaken a road-mapping exercise of this breadth and scale.

The roadmap will identify future research and innovation capability priorities, identify opportunities for increasing interconnectivity, support development of UKRI's overall long-term investment plan, promote the UK as a global leader in research and innovation, and set out the major steps needed to reach the long-term vision.

Opportunities for social science to contribute to the UKRI roadmap

The roadmap is intended to cover the whole research base, and is structured around seven key sectors, one of which is ‘social sciences, arts and humanities’. Social science therefore has a fundamental role to play in shaping the roadmap. 

The social science community is being consulted to give their views at different stages of the roadmap development process, for example through surveys, workshops and interviews. It's vital that you take advantage of these valuable opportunities to have your say on the future of the UK’s research infrastructure and ensure that the voice of social science is heard. 

The importance of data infrastructure

Addressing key challenges facing the world today – health, productivity, economic prosperity, resilience and global sustainability – requires comprehensive data on people, their behaviours, their attitudes and their motivations. 
All scientists require data infrastructure to capture, store, process and provide appropriate and supported access to data. It is a vital component of our scientific endeavour and must be a national resource, designed so that it can be used for research by scientists from across all disciplines. 

As the main funder of UK social science data infrastructure, we fund a wide range of investments and studies that collect data about our economy and society:  

The future: ESRC's social science data infrastructure strategy

We are developing our vision for the UK’s social science data infrastructure, which will enable researchers and analysts from all disciplines and in government to address a range of as yet unimagined questions. 

This will be through a cost-effective portfolio of connected, cutting-edge data investments that collect, analyse and provide access to a wide range of data on the behaviour, wellbeing and social and environmental context of people’s lives in the UK. It will include continued support for some of the investments we already support as well as testing and establishing new ones. 

Case studies

See some examples of how social science research relating to data infrastructure has made an impact: