The Report’s launch event
The Business of People report was described at its official launch as “a very timely and impressive publication,” by Greg Clark MP, the Minister for Universities, Science and Cities.
Mr Clark told more than 100 people at the Church House Conference Centre, Dean’s Yard, London, on 24 February that “I suspect that in the election campaign that is about to start that this will feature strongly as an area in which we can agree we need to respond to positively.”
In his speech he stressed that the social sciences should be recognised as “incredibly important,” just as the natural sciences were, but the question of how they could be made better should be asked. Social science also needed to promote itself more to the public, he said.
Mr Clark began by linking the social and natural sciences. “It’s particularly a delight for me as someone who read economics and did a PhD at the LSE to be Science Minister, while firmly recognising the central importance of the social science within that,” he said.
“It’s very important that the place of social science should be very prominent. Increasingly it is the case that the disciplinary connections that cross the traditional boundaries and silos are more important than ever.
“The physical sciences are incredibly important to our future as a country but so are the social sciences – some of the contributions may be less perceptible than an important scientific discovery or medical breakthrough, nevertheless the economic impact that they have can be huge.
“So the case is well made that we should recognise social science in the whole family of sciences as important for our economic future as well as the future of our society and nation.
“The case for social science is well understood, but that’s not to say you shouldn’t reinforce it with the vigour and eloquence that you do in this report. Across research in general – and this very much applies to the social sciences – there is a great recognition in government and across political parties of the importance of science and research in the future of our nation, so you are pushing at an open door in this.”
Mr Clark said that the recent Research Excellence Framework had found that social science in the UK was world-class, but there could be ways of improving it. “When it comes to the social sciences not only are we strong, we are excellent…It’s absolutely imperative that we continue to invest enthusiastically in science and social science particularly. I see very much, in reading the Business of People Report, a common view that we need to maintain and increase our commitment to social science but we need to continue to ask the question of how we can be even better than we have been.
“This will involve, sometimes, changes to the way we have done things, but always with the end of maintaining and improving not only something that is an immense national asset of international renown but one of the principal ways that we will prosper as an economy and society in the years to come.
“I don’t need much persuasion about the case for investment in social science and science in general – the two go together. The first question is whether our research base collectively is something worth investing in and my observation is that across the government, certainly at the highest level of government, this is accepted.”
He stressed the importance of communicating social science to the public through the media. “Of course it’s absolutely right that the public ought to be as enthusiastic as my senior colleagues about this. I think sometimes the physical sciences are able to make a public connection quite well – I don’t know what is going to be on the Today programme tomorrow morning but I can predict fairly confidently there will be science story, and that’s something that day by day reinforces the reality that these are very important contributions.
“Now, there will quite often be a social sciences story as well and the more the better. Whether it’s through your own individual institutions or through the Academy, to put before the public aspects of this success would be a good thing to do and helps make a case…it’s in all of our interests that everyone is aware of the successes and the contribution that the social sciences in the UK make.”
Mr Clark was one of four panel speakers at the event. Professor Jane Elliott, Chief Executive, ESRC, thanked the Campaign for “a rich and helpful report that really encapsulates the health of the social sciences in the UK. What the report is saying is that we’ve got a fantastic harvest. What we’re celebrating in the report is the excellent work that’s been done over the last decade or so.”
Sharon Witherspoon, Director of the Nuffield Foundation, said: “It’s really helpful to see a positive and robust report. One of the things I really like about it is it gives some very positive and clear and precise things that all of us – not just funders, not just government, not just academics, all of us – need to think about doing better or differently. And I think we need as a group to engage with that.” She said the report was “wonderfully sophisticated about not being naive about evidence-based policy” by recognising that “we need other things beside evidence to make good policy”.
Dr Michelle Harrison, Global Head of Political and Social at TNS, said that most supermarket packet products were launched after “an applied social science programme” had been set up to help communicate their benefits to the public. “I think it’s easy to not understand the full impact of trained social scientists in business around the world doing those kinds of things, whether it’s around products or it’s around services,” she said.
The Report was introduced by the Campaign’s Chair, Professor James Wilsdon, who said: “We feel with this report we have got a strong case to make to government of whatever hue after May 7, and we will use the Report as the basis for the argument and debate we have with policymakers and practitioners across social science and beyond over the coming months.
“We intend this to be the start of a process over the next few months in which we’ll be taking the Report out and talking to key decision makers and opinion reformers, particularly during the Spending Review. We’ll be running a series of roadshow events across the university sector to mobilise the social science community.”
Photos from the event are below, clockwise from top left:
Sharon Witherspoon and Fiona Armstrong, ESRC;
The panellists – Sharon Witherspoon, Greg Clark, Dr Michelle Harrison and Professor Jane Elliott, with Professor James Wilsdon, Chair, Campaign for Social Science;
The Report’s author, David Walker, and Professor Elliott.