The Business of People, one year on

February 24, 2016

Our Head of Policy David Walker reflects on the Business of People report one year on from its publication.

It would be nice to think that on publication The Business of People claimed the Treasury’s attention, allowing us to claim that our case for sustaining science spending helped clinch the commitments made for the next five years by George Osborne in his autumn budget.

The truth is that we didn’t have a result as dramatic as that; but we did add to what became a swelling chorus, which the Treasury did listen to. Amid austerity, the Cameron government is planning to sustain science and – all being well – social science research will receive its due proportion over the next few years.

The Business of People was intended to add to and amplify the arguments being put by those many organisations, in business as in the universities and research, supporting investment in knowledge as both intrinsically worthwhile but also economically functional.

The report cited empirical studies linking R&D investment to economic growth. And, we added, R&D includes ‘soft’ innovation in organisational process and institutional reorganisation – a message that does not always get the attention it deserves.

Ours is a predominantly service economy. However welcome active innovation in industrial production may be, manufacturing now accounts for too small a fraction of the economy to carry growth: innovation has now to take place in the services sector, and there we look to the application of knowledge and techniques developed under the broad umbrella of the social sciences.

The Business of People was intended to remind policymakers of social science’s place on the map, drawing on excellent academic work at the LSE and elsewhere putting numbers to the UK’s research endeavour and its value in employment and contribution to GDP.

The report also focused attention on other indicators of ‘impact’, among them the provision of social science knowledge and advice to MPs at Westminster and elected members of the devolved parliament in Scotland and the assemblies in Wales and Northern Ireland. We are now actively involved with the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology and others in better understanding what representative politicians need and how to talk and listen to them.

The report had value, too, in strengthening social scientists’ sense of identity and common interest. Our disciplines are, let’s face it, heterogeneous and, sometimes, jealous rivals. But as we went round campuses and research units talking about the Business of People, we were able to bring together colleagues – from business schools, social science departments, social scientists working in life and health sciences and in cross-disciplinary projects – who aren’t always sighted on each other’s work, yet have much in common as students of behaviour, attitudes and organisations.

Read more on the Business of People report.