Jonathan BreckonFAcSS

  • Politics and International Relations
  • Society

Independent Researcher, Breckon Consulting Ltd 


I am an independent consultant. I mobilise social science research for smarter decision-making in government, NGOs, and professional bodies. This involves creating new evidence institutions, or synthesising social science, or communicating research insights to policymakers and others.  BSc. in Psychology, Masters and PhD (current) in Political and Social Sciences.

How has social science underpinned your career?

As a social scientist, I’m more of a fox than a hedgehog. According to Isaiah Berlin’s 1953 essay, a fox knows many different things, but a hedgehog knows just one big thing.  In my fox-like career, I have weaved in out of a range of different social science approaches: quant or qual, local or international, applied or pure.

For example, as director of the Alliance for Useful Evidence, I set up evidence intermediary bodies, such as the UK What Works Centres or the Evidence Quarter in Whitehall, that gather all sorts of research for use by decision-makers. My guiding philosophy is matching the method to the question:  questions of ‘what works’ are best suited to experimental designs ; or qualitative research methods for questions of why and how.

Likewise, some subjects are more relevant to certain policy questions than others.  If you have a spatial question, you need a geographer. I was head of policy at the Royal Geographical Society and strongly believe in the importance of place and space. This is highlighted by the current interest in ‘levelling up’, an area I’m working on as a policy advisor for the Government’s Open Innovation Team.

We can also learn a lot from a scholarship in history, philosophy, and language.   I was the first-ever lead on policy for the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the British Academy and continue to try to grapple with those oft-neglected subjects.

In his ground-breaking book Expert Political Judgement, psychologist Philip Tetlock saw eclectic foxes as more accurate predictors of the future, compared to hedgehog experts who used one big idea. I’m not sure I’m any good at guessing the future. But I do predict that we are stronger social scientists if we embrace the diversity, and sometimes dissonance, of all our disciplines.

Career profile

  • Director, Breckon Consulting Ltd. 2021- present
  • Director, Alliance for Useful Evidence, Nesta 2012 – 21
  • Consultant, Quantitative Skills in Social Sciences, 2011-12
    Director of Policy and Public Affairs, Arts & Humanities Research Council 2008 – 11
  • Head of Policy and Public Affairs, Royal Geographical Society, 2003 – 08
  • Assistant Secretary, External Relations, British Academy, 2000-03
  • Policy Officer, Universities UK, 1997-2000
  • PhD.  St George’s, University of London/Kingston University 2019 – present
  • MSc. International Politics, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London1995 – 1997
  • BSc. Psychology Goldsmiths’ College, University of London   1991-94

What inspires you about your work?

I’m inspired by learning from – and applying – the diversity of social science to improve public policy and peoples’ lives. The tricky, but fascinating, challenge is trying to synthesise and communicate existing research in a way that is actionable by policymakers.

Learn more about Jonathan’s work