EPSRC responds to a changing landscape

Nicholas Duvall outlines some changes EPSRC have made to how they engage with researchers and other stakeholders.

Regular readers will know that the UK Government recently made changes to how it administers research funding. The seven Research Councils, Innovate UK and Research England have been reorganized under a parent organization, UK Research and Innovation (known as UKRI). The Councils will be working closer together and they will want to be ready to take advantage of emerging opportunities to fund interdisciplinary research. In the broader funding landscape, beyond UKRI, there is the ongoing context of the Brexit negotiations.

Responding to a changing landscape

In order to be better able to respond to this changing research landscape, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) has made some changes to how it engages with research communities and other stakeholders. It is also making revisions to the way it reviews its funding priorities and its plan for delivering its core objectives.

In common with the other UKRI councils, EPSRC is developing a new Strategic Delivery Plan. Although only two years into the current delivery plan, EPSRC wants to ensure that its plans remain relevant to the needs and expectations of its research community, UKRI and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. In particular, it is considering how the desired outcomes from their investments may be made more specific to physical sciences and engineering. In order to do this, EPSRC recently held workshops around the country with researchers, and other stakeholders, to think about how the current Prosperity Outcomes framework might be developed further. There will be further work with the Strategic Advisory Bodies before a plan is delivered to the UKRI Board early next year.

EPSRC is also revising its Balancing Capability strategy, which is the means by which it prioritizes its budget allocation. This was reviewed, via consultation, in 2011 and 2016, and used to set the direction of the research portfolio for five years. However, it has been argued  that this cycle does not allow  sufficient agility to respond to the changing research environment. Instead, EPSRC will be moving to an ‘ongoing process of portfolio monitoring and evidence collection’, to allow it to set strategies and priorities more responsively, which will make advancing emerging research areas easier. To this end, it has launched the Balancing Capability Open Call for Evidence, providing a clear route for organizations and stakeholder groups to submit evidence around changes or needs within the research landscape.

Gathering ideas for research

As well as seeking evidence about discipline and subject areas’ general directions of travel, EPSRC is keen to gather ideas for research which, given sufficient backing from the research community, could be transformative. To this end, in May it launched Big Ideas. Despite not being a  funding call per se, successful ideas, with the potential to enthuse public and Government, will be developed with EPSRC and its Big Ideas Advisory Group into a compelling business case, which could attract future investment should the opportunity arise. These should be ideas beyond the scope of a Standard Research or Programme Grant, and which cannot be achieved through existing funding routes.

For all these new developments, EPSRC has certainly not abandoned its tried and trusted means of engaging with researchers and stakeholders. The Strategic Advisory Bodies, which recruit on a regular basis, will continue providing strategic advice across EPSRC’s areas of activity. EPSRC also formally solicits Statements of Community Need for National Research Facilities, and  statements can be submitted by research communities until October 31st.

If you or your research group are considering submitting evidence to the Balancing Capability Open Call for evidence, developing a Big Idea, or writing a Statement of Need for a National Research Facility, get in touch with the Research Support Office. We can help to ensure that submissions are co-ordinated and supported.

We also offer strategic advice on working with a whole range of research funders, and can assist you with any aspect of the pursuit of funding.

Nicholas Duvall is Research Development Officer in the Research Support Office.

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