About Us

Our Purpose

We exist to promote social sciences in the UK for public benefit. We showcase, champion and advocate for the social sciences, raising awareness of their immense value and helping to secure their flourishing future.


To enhance and safeguard the social sciences in research, professional practice, and education; and to champion and foster the understanding and application of social sciences in policy, business and public life.


The social sciences flourish in the UK and sustain their world leading stature. They are widely valued for their contributions to society, economy, environment and well-being; and led by confident and capable communities of academics and other professionals, learned societies and students.

  • The Academy meets its purpose through six objectives and they guide all activities:
  • To champion the social sciences: promoting the vital role of social science in improving decision-making, society and lives.
  • To sustain the health of the social sciences in research and education: enabling a thriving and confident community

  • To recognise excellence in social science: with an expert and engaged Fellowship
  • To widen participation and skills in the social sciences: recognising the importance of social mobility, diversity and employability to people and society
  • To foster innovation and application of the social sciences: informing and helping to address challenges of our time
  • To ensure a sustainable future for the Academy of Social Sciences: as the only body that exists solely to represent social sciences in the UK.

The Academy’s strategy was developed collaboratively with inputs from the Council, Fellows, committees and external stakeholders in 2019–20. It frames our work and guides the development of our annual work plans and key performance indicators.

Six objectives define the medium-term scope of our work and, nested within that, the Academy defines three-year priority plans. As the respected national champion for social science, a current emphasis is on showcasing the value of social science evidence and policy in addressing the challenges of COVID-19 and the UK Government’s levelling up agenda. A second emphasis is on helping to ensure the social sciences navigate effectively the many changes arising from Brexit, COVID-19 and the current volatility in UK higher education and research policy. A third relates to our own sustainability and development in a time of change.


Our Academy and Campaign summary Annual Reports are structured around our strategic objectives, reporting on outputs and outcomes, and giving an overview of our finances. Full Trustees’ Reports and Financial Statements are available on request.

Our People

Dr Rita GardnerCBE FAcSS

Chief Executive

A professional geographer with strong leadership expertise and non-executive experience in advisory, trustee and board roles. she became Academy CEO in 2019. Previously she was Director, Royal Geographical Society where she led a strategic programme of modernisation and expansion, advocacy for geography, public and policy engagement. An academic career at London University followed her DPhil at Oxford University. She holds four leading geography awards, six honorary degrees and a CBE for services to geography.

Sharon WitherspoonMBE FAcSS

Head of Policy

Sharon joined AcSS in 2016. She was at the Nuffield Foundation for 19 years, first heading its funding of social research, and then as Director. Before that, she was a social researcher at NatCen and the Policy Studies Institute. She received an MBE for services to social science in 2008, the British Academy President’s Medal in 2011, and an honorary doctorate from University College London in 2015 for services to social sciences and law.

Dr Sarah Jones

Head of Administration

Sarah joined the Academy in early 2021 as Head of Administration. She has a background spanning learned societies, higher and secondary education. Sarah is a geographer with a BSc and PhD from Queen Mary, University of London. She was the Professional Officer and Head of Programmes at the Royal Geographical Society running events in London and the regional committees. She retrained as a geography teacher, becoming Head of Department and an award-winning education resource writer.

Alison Blow

Membership and Database Manager

Alison joined the Academy in April 2020 and is responsible for administering membership activities including supporting the Fellowship nominations process, assisting with Academy events, managing the CRM and the processing of the subscription cycle. She has held various roles in the UK and abroad in the areas of membership, education, client services, tourism, finance and operations.

Steve Grundy

Senior Campaign Manager

Before joining AcSS Steve managed the Q-Step Programme at the Nuffield Foundation, developing quantitative methods in the social sciences. Steve is a qualified careers adviser and counsellor and has managed widening participation teams in several universities. He has worked in the charity sector developing partnerships between schools, universities, communities and business to support social mobility. Steve also has experience of working with universities to improve teaching and learning and academic quality and standards.

Chizom Ekeh

Senior Communications Manager

Chizom manages all aspects of the Academy’s communications. She previously worked as Communications Analyst at Crown Agents, where she led on PR and developed and implemented communications strategies for major global health programmes. Before that she was Communications Officer at the Alan Turing Institute working on researcher-led activities. Chizom has an MSc in Development Studies from LSE, an MA in Political Journalism from City University and a BA in International Relations from Sussex University.

Our Governance

The Academy is governed by its Board of Trustees and supported by three specialist committees and limited-term advisory groups. Trustees, including the President, are elected and appointed from the Fellowship.

The Academy’s Council (Board of Trustees) has overall responsibility for the charity and its members act as Directors for the company. Responsibility for planning, management and delivery is delegated to the Academy’s Chief Executive.

The Council is chaired by the President and comprises 21 members, one-third of whom are elected by the Fellowship, one-third by member social science societies, and one-third are appointed by the Council. All members are Fellows.

We pay particular attention to embracing diversity in Council membership. This includes locational diversity across the four nations and within the UK, diversity in gender and ethnicity, in discipline, and across the main professional sectors of academia, public, private and third sector. A three-year term of election can be extended for a maximum of two successive terms.

The Council is supported by specialist committees and boards:

  • Campaign for Social Science Board (3 meetings p/a)
  • Audit and Risk Management Committee (2 meetings p/a)
  • CEOs-Chief Officers of Learned Societies Committee (3 meetings p/a)
  • Nominations Committee (2 meetings p/a)

The Executive Committee, comprising senior trustees and the Chief Executive, meets monthly.

Lead trustees take on advisory roles for policy activities and for the Academy’s journal.

Advisory groups are formed to meet specific needs. An International Advisory Group currently exists.

The Academy is incorporated as a company limited by guarantee no 3847936 and is registered as a charity no 1088537.