Watch: Launching ‘The SHAPE of Research Impact’

On 25 January, the Academy of Social Sciences, in collaboration with the British Academy, held an online event to delve into a new report revealing the real-world impact of social sciences and humanities research.

‘The SHAPE of Research Impact’ is the result of a major collaboration between the British Academy and Academy of Social Sciences who commissioned researchers at the Leverhulme Centre for Demographic Science to assess the value of research in the SHAPE (Social Sciences, Humanities and the Arts for People and the Economy) disciplines and its societal impact in the UK and around the world through analysis of the Research Excellence Framework 2021 (REF2021) Impact Case Study database.

Hosted by author and journalist, Gillian Tett OBE, the launch event featured a presentation from lead author of the report, Professor Melinda Mills FBA FAcSS, Director of the Leverhulme Centre for Demographic Research, as well as contributions from the Academy of Social Science’s Chief Executive, Dr Rita Gardner CBE FAcSS, and Vice-President for Research and Higher Education Policy at the British Academy, Professor Simon Swain FBA.

Gillian, who holds a PhD in anthropology, opened the event with some personal reflections on the value and relevance of SHAPE research in addressing the varied challenges facing society today. Following this, Melinda presented an overview of the report’s findings and the novel mixed-method approach the research team took to identify the impact of science and humanities research to wider society from 4,000 REF2021 case studies. She also outlined some of the main findings, using examples, including the interdisciplinary nature of SHAPE research and its impact in varied topic areas.

Melinda said, “The really high impact case studies were the ones that reached across disciplinary boundaries and did exciting and innovative things… It was very clear that the social sciences and the medical sciences have very strong links in terms of their research and their impact, but also with the physical sciences and the humanities. The humanities had very strong links with the social sciences, but in many cases also the medical sciences.”

Following Melinda’s presentation, both Rita and Simon offered their own reflections on the breadth and scale of impact from SHAPE research, identifying further examples from the impact case studies identified in the report as well as its value to the wider higher education community and policymakers.

On the implications of the report’s findings for policymakers, Rita said, “We encourage policymakers and funders to nurture cross-disciplinary research in the years ahead, while of course continuing to sustain sector-based research funding. UKRI is already doing good work in this interdisciplinary space. But, undoubtedly more could be done, particularly for example on new technologies such as AI, where policy will need to lean on social science insights so that technology can be adapted in ways that secure public confidence and protection.”

To the attendees Simon added, “What we want you to do with all of this wonderful visual material [from the report and the dashboard] is to go and use it within your universities and your own organisations to say that what we do in the humanities and the social sciences is valuable. It makes a difference. It contributes to the UK economy and to the wellbeing of this nation and internationally.”

Watch the full webinar below to learn more about the research and the relevance of, ‘The SHAPE of Research Impact’.

Download the report and explore the dashboard.


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