Economic and Social Research Council
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Fit for the Future: Research Leadership Matters

The ESRC has today published Fit for the Future: Research Leadership Matters, a report on research leadership in the social sciences by Professor Matthew Flinders. The report recognises the changing funding landscape and follows widespread engagement with the sector, including researchers at all career stages, staff working in Research Organsations to develop research capability, senior university leadership teams together with other organisations interested in building leadership.

Executive summary

The United Kingdom is home to a world-class community of social scientists who in recent years have made major contributions in relation to, for example, understanding social and political change around the world, supporting economic development and industrial growth, exploring the social implications of major advances in relation to science and technology and – more generally – helping to shape public policy and inform public debate through the provision of cutting-edge research and insights. 

These contributions have played a highly significant role in underpinning the quality, impact and reputation of the UK science base. However, the extent and pace of both technological and social change underline the need for science to reflect upon the need to change and adapt to new challenges and opportunities. Approaches, procedures and ways of working that may have been ‘fit for purpose’ in the past are in no way guaranteed to ensure that any discipline or field of inquiry is ‘fit for the future’.

One part of this need to adapt and keep pace relates to the recognition that major scientific discoveries with the potential to deliver positive social benefits are, in the future, unlikely to emerge within any one specific field but are far more likely to develop at the intersection or nexus between disciplinary boundaries. Added to this is an awareness of the benefits of ‘open knowledge networks’ that utilise different forms of expertise and knowledge, and that serve to focus attention on the existence of a complex ‘research ecosystem’ which reaches across the public, private and voluntary sectors. The creation of world-class research environments is therefore increasingly associated with the effective and efficient facilitation of the mobility of people, ideas and talent across traditional disciplinary, institutional and professional boundaries. And yet facilitating and managing mobility in a research environment demands a fresh approach to nurturing, incentivising and rewarding research leadership.  

Read the report (PDF, 1.6Mb), as well as ESRC’s response.


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