Leverage from public funding of science and research

By Dr Sarah Main

A year ago, in the middle of the London 2012 Olympic Games, I walked in to the peculiarly empty offices of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS). Having taken its commitment to halve the number of civil servants working from central London seriously, most BIS staff were operating from off-site locations. I soon came to realise that securing a desk in the heart of the Knowledge and Innovation Group at BIS was not normally so easy.

For nine months, I was part of a team that was gathering evidence on the impact of public investment in science and research. The scope of the team’s work included efficiencies in higher education, the dual funding model, the impact of science and research on local economies and, the strand on which I worked, leverage. The report, Leverage from public funding of science and research, published on the RCUK website, examines how public funding of science and research leverages additional investment from industry, charity and overseas.

We worked from within the Innovation Directorate with close links to the Research Funding Unit and had access to input and expertise from across the science and research functions of BIS and Whitehall: the Government Office for Science, Office of Life Sciences, Higher and Further Education, UKTI, International Knowledge and Innovation and many more.

At times, the work could feel rather abstract: collating and commissioning data to answer questions that had not yet been asked for a ‘review’ that had not yet been called.

But I believe the approach was entirely vindicated by the availability of well-researched and compiled evidence with which to support key messages at short notice.

It will not surprise you to learn that when Treasury or Ministers ask challenging questions, the response time is measured in days or hours, not weeks. And certainly not in the months it takes to thoroughly research some of these difficult questions. When the pressure is on, delivering strong messages backed up by substantive evidence has real impact.

For the conclusions on leverage, I refer you to the report. For those short of time, I suggest the contents page for the scope of the report (page 2) and the four page executive summary. I also commend to you my colleague Sarah Jackson’s report on efficiencies in higher education.

I will leave you with my top tips for dealing with enquiries from officials in Knowledge and Innovation Group at BIS.

  • BIS is complex. The civil service even more so. Ask questions until you understand the structure and reporting lines in to which you are feeding information
  • Forgive them the time pressure. It is applied to them from many directions and usually from high above.
  • Keep it short and to the point. Officials will appreciate it if they don’t have to spend time summarising responses.
  • Understand the context of the question. An enquiry you receive often forms only one element of a multi-stranded response. If your response fits the broader context it is more likely to be useful and be used. Pitching at the national, economic and cross-discipline level is probably not far off.
  • Perhaps the best kept secret: these officials are our champions in government. Be friendly – they are on our side!

Dr Sarah Main is now Director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering. She was previously seconded to BIS from the Medical Research Council (MRC). 

Gateway to Research at the Science & Innovation Conference 2013

By Aja Marriott, GtR Communications Officer

As we move towards releasing the final live Gateway to Research at the end of this year, we’re pleased to welcome a number of new project board members. Professor Dave Delpy is now the Senior Responsible Owner for the project; David Docherty from the National Centre for Universities & Business (NCUB) joins us as a Senior User; and Louise Grant is the new Project Manager.

We have a fantastic opportunity to discuss Gateway to Research at the forthcoming Science & Innovation Conference 2013 this Thursday, 27 June at the QE11 Conference Centre in London (see http://scienceinnovation-conference.co.uk/)

Members of the Gateway to Research project team will meet key stakeholders responsible for shaping the future of government to talk about the value of Gateway to Research, as well as giving live demonstrations throughout the day, so if you happen to be attending, please come along to the RCUK stand.

There will be several seminars throughout the day, including RCUK ‘Fostering Business-Research Engagement’ which includes a talk from Steve Harris, University & Collaborative Programmes Relationship Manager at BAE Systems, who will explain how he has made use of Gateway to Research. More information is available on the RCUK website: www.rcuk.ac.uk/media/news/2013news/Pages/130619.aspx

The seminar will focus on RCUK’s role in fostering two-way engagement between business and researchers, highlighting some specific examples of how this is being achieved and the benefits, including:

  • brokering connections through the Gateway to Research – how the system helps users to access research data from across the Research Councils. It also helps them identify potential partners in universities.
  • stimulating innovation through research and innovation campuses: campuses provide business with excellent access to facilities and other research capabilities and infrastructure.
  • building partnerships model used in social science from entry level up to joint centres

We look forward to seeing you there, but if you can’t make it, we are still very interested to have your feedback about the system, which can be emailed to gateway@rcuk.ac.uk