Thursday, 17 May 2018

Boiled down Basics: the UKRI Strategic Prospectus

This week UKRI published its Strategic Prospectus, which outlines the new agency’s direction of travel. We’ve summarised the 55 page document for those who know it’s important but don’t have time to wade through it. What do you need to know, and what can you ignore?

Boiled down basics: 55 pages into 700 words
(photo: Larry & Teddy Page)

Contents, introduction, foreword, vision, mission and values, framework and foundation (p1-14 and p55:). This is an aspirational and repetitious summary. You can safely skip it.

Case studies (p19, 25, 26, 34, 35, 37, 40, 41, 52, 54). Similarly, don’t add anything. Move on.

UKRI has four founding principles (p15-18): nurturing talent, ensuring equality, diversity and inclusion, developing a strong research and innovation culture, and supporting open access and data. To support these, it promises the following:
  • A Research and Innovation Talent Strategy (2018), including the Future Leaders Fellowships;  support for more vocational education and links between business and research careers; support for interdisciplinary teams; and a promotion of continuing professional development
  • A strategy and action plan for equality, diversity and inclusion (2018), including new analysis and an external advisory group
  • A Research and Innovation Ethics Policy and Framework (no timeframe given)
  • A Haldane Principle conference (2018) for its hundredth anniversary.
  • A roadmap for open research data in the UK (no timeframe given), as part of the Open Research Data Task Force.
  • A review of its open access policies (2019), to assess their effectiveness and make recommendations

UKRI’s primary function is ‘pushing the frontiers of human knowledge and understanding’ (p21-24). This comprises:
  • Rewarding excellence based on peer review
  • Supporting the dual support mechanism
  • Supporting the autonomy of individual councils within their subject domains, but facilitating and encouraging collective working
  • Engaging with users and business
  • Being efficient and evaluating its effectiveness
More specifically this will involve:
  • A new Strategic Priorities Fund (p22) that will:
    • Fund work ‘in areas which previously may have struggled to find a home….laying the foundations for future capability.’
    • Crossover, complement and align to the work of government departments 
    • Respond to strategic priorities and opportunities. 
  • The dual support system (p23). UKRI is supportive of it, but will continue to review the balance between the two parts.

This will lead to UKRI’s first longer term goal: delivering economic impact through innovation (p27-33). Support will come through a number of routes that aim to put innovation centre stage and on a par with teaching and research. These include:
  • A new emphasis on research into the efficacy of different interventions to support innovation (p27-28). Metrics will be used to understand the landscape, and monitoring and evaluation will be central to programme design.
  • The Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (p30-33), offering theme-based funding to ‘enhance connectivity’, and ‘promote and accelerate commercialisation of the best ideas’. This will include investment in open programmes and the catapult network, encouraging investors, and increasing the talent pool of innovators. As well as central ISCF funding there will be:
    • A £50m programme of loans (2017-20)
    • An increase in the Higher Education Innovation Fund (HEIF) and an expansion of the ICURe pilot scheme for transition and commercialisation.
    • A Strengths in Places Fund, which will back local consortia, building on the science and innovation audits and local industrial strategies.

UKRI’s second longer term goal is creating social and economic impact (p36-39). UKRI wants to work more closely with the public to identify and tackle societal challenges that matter most to them, and meet their concerns and aspirations. As well as this it wants to influence and inform more, through such instruments as:
  • Global Challenges Research Fund and Newton (p38): no new news here.  
  • Working with the whole of government (p39), including the Government Office for Science and others, to have the maximum influence and impact.
  • Communication and public engagement (p39), including funding for research ‘that place citizen participation at their heart.’

The final part of the Prospectus explains:
  • UKRI’s funding through the National Productivity Investment Fund (p42-43);
  • It’s measurement and monitoring (p44-45). There will be a new UKRI Data Hub that ‘will bring together our collective evidence base and provide new analytical tools’
  • How it’s constituted and how it will operate (p46-49). There’s a mention of ‘legacy’ IT, and investment ‘in new technology [for] effective grant management.’
  • The need to develop the R&I environment more broadly (p50:-51) by acting internationally and support for the UK’s continuing participation in Horizon Europe. As well as GCRF and Newton there’s mention of a £110m Fund for International Collaboration with non-ODA countries (p51).
  • Support for research infrastructure (p53). UKRI will ‘create a long term research and innovation infrastructure roadmap’ to 2030.

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