Friday, 3 June 2011

ESRC Implements its Delivery Plan

I went along to an ESRC presentation in London last night at which the Council outlined how it was putting into practice its Delivery Plan. There will be some changes to its funding schemes as a result, and full details will be available on their website in the next few weeks. In the meantime here’s a summary of the main points that were raised.

Research Grants
o The introduction of a mechanism for funding innovative or risky research. Projects using this mechanism would have two phases: the first would be a pilot phase in which novel ideas and concepts could be tested. If this was successful the project could move on to a second phase of funding. The ‘break point’ for the project, when progress and potential would be assessed, would be agreed between the applicant and the ESRC. They stressed that the intention was for there to be no blame, or no sense of failure, at the break point, if the project did not progress to the second phase.
o Early ‘filtering’ of applications. Whilst they said that there would be more use of outline applications, it would not be introduced for all schemes. For Research Grants you would complete a full application, but proposals would be filtered at an earlier stage and not all would go on to full peer review.

Centres & Large Grants
o The Centres and Large Grants schemes would be combined. ‘Considerable’ investment was being made in the new scheme (some £20m), and grants of between £2m- £5m would be awarded.
o There would be a clear expectation of:
- ‘strong support’ from HEIs;
- ‘maximising impact’ through working with other investors and international collaborators;
o There would be an open competition, but with strong ‘steers’ towards areas of priority, namely:
- Economic Performance: in particular towards new approaches to macroeconomics, constructions of risk, and regulation and governance. In addition extra funding would be made available for entrepreneurship, rising powers (India, China, Brazil), and infrastructure.
- Influencing Behaviour: understanding risks at multiple levels and settings; the role of technology, social norms and signals as agents of change; and the interplay of childhood, family, community and wider society in influencing wellbeing;
- Vibrant & Fair Society: in particular, social mobility and getting minority voices heard.

Future Leaders Scheme
o This was intended to meet some of the concerns expressed by the sector when the Small Grants Scheme was abolished, by continuing provision for early career researchers (ECRs);
o ECRs with less than 4 years (not 6 as previously advertised) post doc experience would be eligible;
o The scheme would be open, but there would be a strong steer towards secondary data analysis and innovative research methodology. Approximately 70 grants would be available annually.

More generally, it was made clear that their three strategic priorities (economic performance, influencing behaviour, vibrant and fair society) would be ‘refreshed annually’ – i.e. that they would be amended according to the perceived need for research in specific areas. The Council was pleased with the Comprehensive Spending Review settlement, but there was still a need to deal with a 12% cut in programme funding. As such, it wanted to encourage secondary data analysis that would provide value for money insights using existing data. It would introduce a scheme to encourage such analyses, and small grant funding would be available for them.

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