AHRC Study Tour 2012 – ‘Emerging Themes’ Overview

This is the second part of a series on the AHRC 2012 Study Tour.

Adam Walker – Strategy & Development Manager provided a whistle stop tour of the AHRC ‘Emerging Themes’. Although these are still referred to officially as “emerging”, the point was made that by now many of these have “emerged”.

The Main Themes are:

  • Science in Culture: looking at the historical evaluation of science, creativity & discovery, imagery & museums, public debate & enagement
  • Digital Transformations: how can we transfrom arts & humanities
  • Care for the Future: how the past can inform future thinking; custodianship of cultural heritage
  • Translating Cultures: need for diverse cultures to understand & communicate verbal & non verbal artforms; cultural understanding in a globalised economy & society

The main aims of the 4 emerging themes are:

  • knowledge exchange
  • capacity building
  • informing public policy
  • partnership activities – large consortia grants
  • build on previous programmes

Each of the main themes has a series of more focused sub-themes. Details can be found on the AHRC website, under ‘Emerging Themes’.

Connected Communities: this is a cross-Council theme, led by AHRC. Annual summits are being held for existing award holders with the opportunity for follow-on funding. There will be a Development Workshop announced in March for an event in May/June looking at Communities, Culture, Environment & Sustainability.

Advisory groups have been held for the 4 main emerging themes. There are development workshops planned and it is anticipated that future calls will be for longer, larger grants with a greater focus on the sub themes.

Current open Highlight Notices:

  • The highlight notice for the fellowship scheme has been extended until December 2012 and the highlight notice in the networking scheme until the end of July 2012. Both schemes remain entirely open to proposals addressing any topic and proposals to the scheme do not need to address any of these themes.
  • Care for the Future: a research grants scheme highlight notice is open,  looking at humanities approaches to environmental change (value up to £1.5m for a large consortia of either a group from one university OR a consortia of HEIs)

Although no commitment was made, Adam indicated that there have been discussions around opening up highlight notices for other themes within the responsive-mode standard research grants call.

Finally, there will be a Development Workshop, associated call & activities considered on community resilience, & provisionally on Communities, Culture, Diversity & Cohesion announced in 2013. There will be Devlopment Workshops announced under all of the other Themes but these are still to be decided.

Adam’s slides are available at: http://www.slideshare.net/AHRC/arma-themes-presentation

Share

Final Reminder: NERC Peer Review College Call!

NERC has today issued a final reminder for those who want to nominate themselves to be part of their Peer Review College:

We have reduced and equalised the number of review requests per member in order to make involvement in NERC peer review activities more manageable and to allow NERC to widen the expertise-base of the College by increasing the number of members from 450 to 600.

We are looking for members with all types of environmental sciences expertise, including those from the public and private sector user communities. Those selected will play a vital role in determining the research that NERC funds and in maintaining its quality.

Those interested have until 27th January to respond by completing the nomination form, available on the NERC website. Note that if you’re nominating yourself you’ll need a senior colleague to support your application.

There has been a spate of calls for peer review membership among the research councils recently, with AHRC adding to its burgeoning 1,300-member College at the end of 2011 and the ESRC’s call still open. The benefits of membership include opportunities to network and to gain an insight into the peer review process, as well as improving your own proposal writing skills.

Share

AHRC Study Tour 2012 – Mark Llewellyn on Future Strategic Directions

This is part 1 of a series on the AHRC 2012 Study Tour: First up was Professor Mark Llewellyn, AHRC’s new Director of Research with a wide-ranging talk covering most of what AHRC currently does as well as future directions for the funder.

And when we say “new”, we mean it! It turns out Mark had only been in the job 20 days when he delivered this presentation – he was formerly Professor of English Studies at Strathclyde. Phil Ward, Research Funding Manager at Kent, has already offered his own useful analysis of what Prof. Llewellyn’s appointment might say about the AHRC’s underlying goals. In any case, Prof. Llewellyn did a good job of summing up the state of play at the research council as well as giving some reasonable indications about what AHRC will be interested in over the next year or so. In what follows I’ve picked out some of the key points from the session. You can also take a look at the presentation slides, available on the AHRC website. And remember to leave a comment if you’d like to ask a question.

“Commissioned” Research

One of the points Mark made fairly early on was that AHRC’s remit is wide – over 50 disciplines are represented and supported by the funder. As with other research councils, this support is primarily channelled through their “responsive” mode: a no deadlines, open all year funding stream for anything within AHRC’s remit. After briefly covering the AHRC’s “emerging” themes (which will be the subject of tomorrow’s more detailed post), Mark briefly mentioned the possibility of a new “commissioned” research funding mode which would respond flexibly to priorities raised by the research community. Not a lot was said about this in the presentation – suggesting it is still at an early stage of development – but the presentation (slide 5) shows that it is clearly separate from the emerging themes as well as the cross-council priorities. This is speculation, but perhaps it is one way of the AHRC responding to criticisms last year over the perceived introduction of the “big society” into their research agenda (an issue on which both Mark and the audience were noticeably silent).

The issue of forming longer-term partnerships with the research community was clearly at the forefront as Mark began his presentation with the observation that “grants don’t just stop”. Of course the funding ends, but there are many more events and activities which outlast the duration of the grant. There was a clear indication that the AHRC intend to take an increasing interest in longer-term outcomes and outputs of the research they fund, not just through the RCUK Research Outcomes System, but also in the nature of the relationship between funder and researcher. This may well signal a subtle shift towards the “funder as sponsor” model adopted by the EPSRC.

“Embedded”

One of the words of the day for Mark and other AHRC presenters was “embedded”. The significance is this: although the AHRC has and will continue to have separate strands of activity devoted to, say, Knowledge Exchange and International research partnerships, the expectation is that these activities will be embedded and integrated across the AHRC’s research themes and schemes. Mark made the point that funding for Knowledge Exchange doesn’t just have to be chanelled through specialist KE themes. This shouldn’t be too surprising, especially since research councils have been hammering on about including costs for impact activities within grants for quite some time now. The picture is of  longer, larger research grants (see below) which also make time for international and industrial engagement, and of researchers who are prepared to be leaders both within and outside academia.

Demand/Expectation Management

Mark wants to work with research organisations and research offices to share best practice on this issue, both processes and user experiences. From “our” perspective, he suggested that demand management might be better framed as expectation management, although whose expectations wasn’t made clear (research managers’ or academics’?) – and who is doing the managing?

One specific point is worth highlighting here: many institutions understandably call on members of the AHRC Peer Review College to act as internal peer reviewers. Mark acknowledged that this is a good way of sharing peer review expertise but cautioned that institutions shouldn’t overburden PRC members. One suggestion was that PRC members could focus on reviewing applications by early career researchers only. Another was to ensure that membership of internal peer review groups included a mix of PRC members and more junior colleagues, giving the opportunity for those who have not had the benefit of working as a peer reviewer to gain an insight into this process.

On the issue of peer review, Mark also indicated that he wanted members of the PRC to feel more like a community. Peer review is therefore to be given its own section on the AHRC’s new-look website, and there is likely to be some investment in online training for the 1300+ member College.

“Longer and larger”

This was another of the key phrases of the day, along with the corollary – “fewer” – which was mentioned slightly less often. In common with all the other research councils, the AHRC are strategically positioning themselves to invest in a smaller number of longer, larger grants which deliver greater impact. None of this is new, of course, having been highlighted in the Delivery Plans published at the end of 2010. However, Mark was keen to point out that it did not necessarily mean calling for projects worth £4M. He insisted that it was also about engaging with researchers in development of research activity and suggested that AHRC would start running EPSRC-style research “sandpits” to do this.

Mark acknowledged that the calls announced to date for the four existing “emerging” themes (Digital Transformations, Translating Cultures, Care for the Future, Science in Culture) might have given the impression that longer and larger was not the priority – there have been a number of small scale research development calls as well as highlight notices on the £45K max Research Networking scheme. These were designed to scope the research area, and would be followed by a larger scale call, in much the same way as has happened in Connected Communities.

There will be more from the AHRC Study Tour tomorrow.

Share

AHRC Study Tour 2012 – Introduction

Last Friday Sam King and I took the long train down from Newcastle to Swindon to visit the Arts and Humanities Research Council for an ARMA-sponsored “Study Tour” (it took 5 and a half hours to get there – a substantial journey, but not quite the epic 7 and a half hours it took me last time I visited Research Councils HQ). AHRC have helpfully uploaded the agenda and all of the presentations on their website:

AHRC/ARMA Study Tour 2012

Study Tours are a useful opportunity for research support staff like us to meet with research council staff and hear about their latest strategic priorities, discuss any policy shifts, and find out about new or revamped funding opportunities. Despite having the smallest budget of all the UK research councils, the AHRC is the primary funder for many researchers in arts, humanities and related disciplines. One of the messages which came across clearly throughout the day was that their funding has a significant effect on the research community and the UK’s economic, social and cultural well-being (see, for example, their recently published impact report for 2011).

Over the course of this week, we’ll be writing about the main insights and messages from the day on this blog. We’ll also arrange an AHRC update event in the near future open to all Northumbria staff to elaborate on some of the key points and discuss potential opportunities for funding. If you’d like to ask any questions in the meantime, please either leave a comment on the blog or contact us.

Here’s the full list of posts:

  1. Mark Llewellyn on Future Strategic Directions
  2. ‘Emerging Themes’ Overview
  3. Peer Review and Fellowships
  4. Knowledge Exchange and International Opportunities
  5. Research Careers, Block Grant Partnerships and Final Questions
Share

ESRC Now Recruiting

The Economic and Social Research Council is now recruiting for membership of both its Grant Assessment Panels and Committees.

Grant Assessment Panels meet approximately three times per year to consider grant applications to the ESRC and give funding recommendations. Being part of a panel is an excellent opportunity to work with other experienced academics as well as those in the private, public and third sector and to shape the ESRC’s funding portfolio. Members also have the chance to read a range of project proposals, which is a great way to learn and share best practice with colleagues.

The current call for membership is focusing specifically on the following areas:

  • Sociology (particularly the sociology of health)
  • Socio-legal studies
  • Science and technology studies
  • Management and business studies (including accounting and finance)
  • Economics (particularly micro economics)

Further information, including a vacancy specification, is available on the ESRC website. To apply you need to complete a short application form and attach a two-page CV, to be sent to gavin.salisbury@esrc.ac.uk no later than 5pm on 1st February 2012.

ESRC are also recruiting members for their Committees. The committees lead on ESRC’s corporate strategy and oversee the development of research, evaluation, methods and infrastructure, and training investments.

Vacancies are available in all three of the ESRC’s policy committees – Methods and Infrastructure, Research and Training and Skills – as well as their Audit and Evaluation Committees. In terms of time commitment, the ESRC suggests you should be willing to spend a minimum of 10 days per year in addition to attendance at committee meetings. Further details on the vacancies and eligibility are available in the vacancy specification on the ESRC website.

If you’re interested in applying you should complete a short application form, two-page CV and attach a supporting statement from a suitable referee, to be sent to angela.newton@esrc.ac.uk by 5pm on 1st February 2012.

Share