The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) has announced four new Constitutional Change Knowledge Exchange (KE) Leadership Fellows. The fellows will lead ‘public debate and knowledge exchange on constitutional change’ following the UK General Election 2015.

As ESRC puts it, the fellows ‘will maximise the breadth and depth of social science contributions to debates in the period immediately after the 2015 general election, through the development of a number of knowledge exchange and public engagement activities’.

It is a welcome step considering the importance of research in humanities and social sciences. Prior to the 2015 Westminster elections, a review report had highlighted the need for sustained research and training in social science to help the new government handle the challenges within the UK and abroad.

The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is part of the Research Councils UK (RCUK), and is dedicated to the research and training in social and economic areas.

The fellows are: Professor Nicola McEwen of University of Edinburgh; Associate Director, ESRC centre for constitutional change, Professor Richard Wyn Jones from Cardiff University; Des McNulty; Professor Adam Tomkins; Professor Duncan Maclennan from Glasgow University and Sir Bernard Crick Centre at University of Sheffield.

Each fellow has a specific area of research, and is appointed for a period of six to eight months’ duration, starting from the 1st of July.

The Crick centre at Sheffield University has been designated as the ESRC Knowledge Exchange Hub, and is responsible for fostering public debate on democratic and constitutional reform that is underpinned by the best social science research. It will achieve this through the creation and promotion of several short and informative films for 16-24 year-olds, which will be shown at important public events.

Director of Sir Bernard Crick Centre, Prof. Matthew Flinders said: ‘The designation of the Crick Centre as an ESRC Knowledge Exchange Hub is a real honour and it recognises the vital work and the unrivalled capacity that the Centre offers in terms of not only undertaking research but also in translating that research so that it underpins public debates in a meaningful manner’.

The core team at Crick centre consists of three academic knowledge exchange fellows: Professor Matthew Flinders, Dr Kate Dommett and Dr Matt Wood as well as two practitioner knowledge exchange fellows, Titus Alexander from Democracy Matters and Matteo Bergamini from Shout Out UK.

Fellows will pave the path for the researchers to contribute to debates concerning the future of the United Kingdom. The aim is to enable quality social science research to impact policy priorities in the UK at local, national and international level.

Social science research can help address social and political challenges, however in a recent Guardian article, many academicians had voiced their concern that politicians often ignore their research.

Speaking to the Guardian, John Urry, Professor of Sociology, Lancaster University, said: ‘It is frustrating how the social sciences get sidelined in public debate’.

He added: ‘Britain has some of the world’s greatest concentrations of social scientists. There is here a win-win possibility if only governments, businesses and NGOs appreciated what stunning expertise is available if they looked a bit harder and acted on their rhetoric to develop evidence-based policy-making’.

With the aim of promoting social science to the UK Government and public, the Campaign for Social Science was launched in 2011. Elaborating on the demand for social science research, a pre-election report from the campaign had made urgent recommendations ‘on research funding, social science capacity and use of expert advice by government to maximise social science’s contribution’.

ESRC’s new fellows will gather and present factual evidence on constitutional issues and develop programmes of knowledge exchange and communication activities. They form an integral part of ESRC and will advise it on the development of future similar initiatives.

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