Dr Rita Gardner: reflections on a busy year to date

It has been another busy year for the Academy, and its Campaign for Social Science, as we expand our work to promote the social sciences in the UK for public benefit. With the buzz of autumn activity currently underway, I wanted to take the opportunity to reflect on our achievements to date.

The year began with the announcement that a team of researchers, led by AcSS and BA Fellow Professor Melinda Mills, at the Leverhulme Centre for Demographic Science, University of Oxford, had been commissioned to analyse the REF2021 Impact Case Study data for the SHAPE disciplines. Through this project, the impact of the SHAPE disciplines is being analysed for the first time, showcasing the tangible impact that social sciences, arts and humanities research delivers across the UK and beyond, in helping to address global issues, national priorities and the needs and engagement of local communities. The resulting report with the team’s findings will be released early in 2024. The project sees the AcSS and BA working closely in association for the first time.

The Campaign’s latest Sage Policy Report has also been a prominent part of our work in 2023, supported by data and analysis from Digital Science and commentary from Professor James Wilsdon. It focuses on the essential role the social sciences play within the UK’s research, development and innovation system, and what they bring to research from other sectors, notably STEM. It too is scheduled for launch in January 2024.

A longer-term EDI project in collaboration with our member Social Science Societies and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), has also made substantial progress over the course of this year. A new equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) resource hub, which launched on our website at the end of the summer, shares knowledge with learned societies and draws together free good practice EDI guidance from across the Academy, our member societies and other organisations. The most recent EDI data has been analysed and is available as a benchmark for Social Science Society members. We’re also looking forward to announcing in late November the recipients of the small-scale grant funding we have available, as part of this project, for societies to develop their EDI work.

Earlier this year, we were delighted to welcome Professor Lucie Cluver as she explored the role of social science in protecting us against future global threats in our 2023 Annual Lecture. Her lecture is available to watch online.

We have also welcomed 103 leading social scientists to our Fellowship. Elected for their substantial contributions to social science, our Fellows highlight the importance, breadth and relevance of the social sciences to tackling the pressing issues facing society today. Our Fellows, alongside our Council Members, Executive Committee, staff, committees and other stakeholders, have all played a vital role in informing our strategy refresh over the past six months, and I have been encouraged by their supportive responses to shaping our future aspirations for the next five years. The new strategy will be announced in the new year.

Season three of the Academy’s We Society podcast saw our President and host, Will Hutton, invite leading social scientists, practitioners and thought leaders to discuss some of the most pressing challenges confronting the UK and our world at this time. The podcast reached the top spot in both the Apple podcast science chart and the social science chart and we’re currently halfway through season four! All previous episodes are available to listen now.

As part of our work to champion the social sciences and promote the vital role they play in improving decision-making and societal challenges, the Campaign for Social Science launched Election 24: ideas for change based on social science evidence. Ahead of a likely UK General Election next year, this new project draws on the expertise of distinguished social scientists, many of whom are Fellows of the Academy, to identify positive and constructive policy suggestions on key policy areas including the cost-of-living crisis; climate change and living standards; health and social care; immigration; and higher education, amongst others. Alongside a new hub on our website hosting a range of comment pieces, we have hosted two webinars discussing health inequalities and migration policy, and joined forces with Cardiff University at the Festival of Social Science to celebrate lifelong wellbeing in Wales. There’s more to come in November and December; we’re delighted to have partnered with the University of Glasgow to explore the challenges of climate policy, with the University of Southampton to discuss the possibilities of sustainable growth, and with the University of Birmingham to examine wealth inequalities. Even more activity will be coming in the new year, so keep an eye on the Election 24 hub over the coming months. Do please get in touch if you would like to propose a comment piece.

Elsewhere, we have continued our work from last year by building on the creation of the Academy’s Forum for Leaders of Social Science in Higher Education Institutions; developing several high-profile themed issues for our journal, Contemporary Social Science, under the editorship of Professor David Bailey; and have produced regular policy updates and responded to selected policy consultations.

Looking ahead to the rest of the autumn, we still have lots going on, the remainder of season four of the We Society podcast will be released, and there’s still time to book for our forthcoming Election 24 events and this year’s Campaign Annual Sage Lecture which is being delivered by Professor Gary Younge on the theme of Political ‘Realism’ in an Election Year. Professor Jane Green will also provide her own insights with a response to Gary’s online lecture.

Fellows active on X (formerly Twitter) and LinkedIn will also know that the Academy’s profile has been substantially enhanced since the summer with a boost to our communications activity and outreach.

As I reflect back on all we have achieved so far this year, I’m incredibly proud of the hard work put in by our small, dedicated team, and appreciative of the huge support, collaboration and contributions from our Fellows, member social science societies, Campaign sponsors, trustees and committee members. I’m looking forward to seeing the impact of our activities and what more is to come in the rest of 2023. Looking forward, with a refreshed strategy launching in 2024, a pro-active staff team, and an election looming, we will be seeking to position and promote the social sciences and their understanding of our contemporary human world more than ever.

Dr Rita Gardner

Chief Executive