Terms of reference

Purpose

Strategic Advisory Teams (SATs) exist to provide Theme Leaders at EPSRC with strategic advice that will assist them to develop, implement and modify plans.

SATs are devised as a flexible resource, enabling Theme Leaders to obtain the advice they need in a timely manner, drawing on a range of perspectives from across our key stakeholder groups.

Stakeholder perspectives likely to be most represented across all SATs are:

  • Academic
  • Users of research, including business, third sector and Government
  • Upstream societal/ethical engagement
  • Others including third sector, Government, representative bodies.

An important principle governs the function of SATs: the separation of the provision of strategic advice from delivery and decision-making by the Executive. SAT members are individually and collectively responsible for the advice offered. The Theme Leader works with colleagues across EPSRC to deliver the theme contribution to EPSRC’s strategies, drawing on the range of inputs received, including SAT advice. The Theme Leader is responsible to the Chief Executive for the decisions they make.

The SAT provides advice to the Executive (through the Theme Leader).

Scope

Each SAT is intended to:

  • Act as a body of advisors to EPSRC, with a primary affiliation to one Theme area, helping to ensure that the skills and research base are there to support the advancement of knowledge and the future needs of business and society.
  • Provide an early alert to the EPSRC on priority and emerging issues, contributing to the development of strategy within and between Themes and at corporate level.
  • Alert EPSRC to new and emerging research and training opportunities, including international opportunities.
  • Act as a sounding board for the early development of relevant policy and priorities, ensuring that policy development is appropriate and has credibility.
  • Help with two-way communication between EPSRC and the research community.

On occasion, provide input as a matter of urgency on specific topics as requested by EPSRC's Chief Executive.

Membership

Members are drawn from EPSRC’s stakeholder groupings. They are expected to bring a broad strategic view to bear and to act as ‘generous generalists’, advising across the breadth of the Theme. Members are not required to act as representatives of their own organisation, research area or sector.

Members are required to declare any personal, private or commercial interests that might conceivably conflict with the interests of the EPSRC, and must withdraw from any discussion of topics in which they have such an interest.

The names of all SAT members together with a register of potential conflicts of interest will be published on the EPSRC website.

Nominations and Recruitment

Annually, we will issue an open call for self-nominations on the EPSRC website and also invite nominations from key stakeholder groups. Based on the competencies and characteristics required for the vacancies, the Executive will identify those who it might wish to appoint. The Appointments Assurance Committee will act in an oversight capacity for all appointments of EPSRC’s strategic advisers (including SATs). This committee will consider and review the Executive’s proposals and the rationale for these recommendations, challenging as appropriate. The sub-group is ultimately responsible for confirming and ratifying appointments. Further detail can be found on the EPSRC website.

Term

Membership will generally be for three years, with the possibility of extension of up to three years. In order to ensure the maximum flexibility and to ensure long-term continuity across the membership of all SATs, EPSRC will ensure there is staggering of terms.

Operation

Theme Leaders and their teams engage SAT members in a number of ways, both formally and informally. Formal SAT meetings take place up to three times a year, with at least one meeting scheduled in the spring/summer and another meeting in the autumn of the calendar year. Where possible, the timing of SAT meetings across themes will be aligned, although for logistical or strategic reasons this may not always be possible. In addition and as the need arises, SAT members are engaged in some of the following: EPSRC-led workshops, as a participant or speaker; mentorship; round-table discussions with stakeholders; working groups, either theme-specific or cross-EPSRC.

Quality Assurance

EPSRC relies on the quality of the strategic advice it receives. This provides an external check on the development of EPSRC’s direction and plans. A SAT member will chair SAT meetings primarily to ensure that the reported outcomes accurately reflect the nature of the advice received and that all present at the meeting discharge their roles appropriately. The advisory function of SATs is separated from:

  • Responsibility for the decisions made by the Executive
  • The independent peer review processes managed by EPSRC.

Expectations

Theme Leaders receive inputs from a range of sources, for example, from senior management in universities, business partners, academic researchers, international partners, government and other UK agencies. Theme Leaders work with their colleagues to synthesise these different inputs to understand the nature of the challenge, opportunity or issue arising and to decide on the action needed. The expectations below should be seen in this wider context.

The Executive (though the Theme Leader) will endeavour to:

  • Provide the appropriate information so that SAT members are adequately briefed and able to contribute meaningfully.
  • Provide an appropriate forum and tools for members to provide appropriate, high-quality strategic advice.
  • Maintain members’ knowledge of all the Theme’s activities and of EPSRC strategic thinking and direction. We will facilitate information flows between the SAT and EPSRC Council.
  • Be clear about the information SAT members can share more widely and that which is provided in confidence.
  • Inform members about the outcome of the advice and how it will be used and in particular to explain the rationale where the advice has not been followed.
  • Raise the profile of the work of SATs and disseminate widely summaries of SAT discussions to inform the broader community, including making notes of SAT meetings publicly available in an appropriate format.

The Members of the SAT will endeavour to:

  • Act within the Seven Principles of Public Life, in particular to provide independent, informed advice avoiding actual or perceived conflicts of interest by taking a collegiate approach to policy and strategy development:
  • Act as ‘generous generalists’
  • Challenge constructively and/or validate EPSRC’s perspectives drawing on the available evidence and their own experiences.
  • Take individual and collective ownership of the advice they provide whilst recognising the separation of that advice from responsibility for the decisions made, which rests with the Executive.
  • Work as a team with other SAT members and EPSRC and be proactive in bringing forward issues and opportunities to the attention of the Theme Leader.
  • Use their profile as SAT members in order to improve two-way communications within their respective stakeholder communities and, where appropriate, with decision-makers.

This includes:

  • Gathering intelligence that can be brought to bear in policy development
  • Explaining EPSRC policies to the community
  • Advocating, where relevant, on specific issues on behalf of EPS
  • Attend the formal meetings of the entire SAT.

The Chair of the SAT will endeavour to:

  • Work with EPSRC staff and all SAT members to ensure that SAT meetings are run in accordance with the frameworks described above.
  • Provide advice to EPSRC in advance of SAT meetings.
  • Work in partnership with EPSRC and members of the SAT to develop the forward plan of possible discussion topics for future meetings.
  • Ensure that all SAT member views are heard at SAT meetings, the recorded advice is representative of the views expressed and that all present have discharged their roles appropriately.