4. Delivering and being accountable as an outstanding organisation

Efficient and effective operations

Over the past 20 years, we have delivered a broad, diverse portfolio of research and training investments through an agile approach that has enabled efficient, effective innovation and continuous improvement. Compared to 25 years ago, we are servicing more than double the budget with two-thirds of the staff.

We operate an agile operating model that allows us to transform and adapt quickly to new opportunities. Features that particularly help us do this are:

  • an outcomes-focused approach that covers everything we do, defining plans according to outputs and outcomes and realising benefits through appropriate monitoring plans
  • an agile, flexible management structure
  • a culture of information-sharing and free exchange of business knowledge, empowering teams and frontline staff to make decisions
  • detailed current knowledge of our portfolio, alongside horizon-scanning activities and sector-specific analysis of UK research capability in a global context
  • effective relationships with other research councils and IUK, enabling us to collaborate quickly and bid successfully when new funding opportunities arise.

Measuring progress against the UKRI success framework and our DP

We will proactively manage delivery of our DP in the following ways:

  • appointment of a member of our executive leadership team as champion for each of our 12 priorities, who will own delivery and leadership of this priority across EPSRC
  • use of the long-term ambitions for each priority to design a monitoring and evaluation framework with critical performance measures articulated for each priority
  • routine presentation to our Council of progress against our priorities, for advice and guidance
  • invitations for our advisory groups to comment on and review progress on each priority.

In terms of evaluation tools, all our funded researchers currently use ResearchFish®, which enables collection of evidence about outcomes of research investments at all scales from individual researcher awards to researchers working within our Institutes. Key outcome indicators include research outputs, innovation impacts, training outcomes and public engagement.

Management boards oversee evaluation of investments of over £10 million. Our portfolio managers undertake active monitoring, for example through attendance at these boards. Key indicators used are bespoke to the plans and milestones of the programme in question. The proposed creation of a science, engineering and technology board will enable greater transparency and engagement with academic and user communities in the evaluation process.

At the level of overall programmes, our thematic managers gather intelligence on portfolio outcomes via active engagement with our community, including regular university visits and interaction with relevant representative bodies. At the level of our total portfolio, key intermediate indicators will show how our interventions have made a difference. These include: quality and international standing of research outputs; volume of multidisciplinary research across our portfolio; amount of business leverage secured; number of council partnerships across UKRI; number and quality of partnerships with academia, business and government departments; diversity of our researcher community, decision-making and advisory structures; and number of new spin-outs and start-ups.

How will UKRI-EPSRC evolve to deliver its vision?

An important part of UKRI's formation will be reorganisation of the partner councils to comply with a common organisational model, characterised by clarity of line management and responsibility for delivery. One benefit will be easier cross-council working and collaboration. Putting in place an effective structure for development, organisation and delivery of cross-UKRI activities and especially the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund will be an important part of this process.

One characteristic of the UKRI and recent EPSRC landscape has been increased investment in large funding awards of over £10 million. We will be proactive and transparent in how we identify and develop cases for funding, and rigorous and transparent in the way we assess progress and delivery against objectives during and beyond the end of the grant. We must also access new skills to enable robust economic analysis of the value of the investments. In the next 12 months, we will therefore make a number of changes:

  1. In consultation with Council, we will create a science, engineering and technology board to:
    • provide advice and scientific guidance to the EPSRC Executive regarding critical mass investments such as, Centres of Excellence and Institutes. Specifically, to:
      • understand the benefits and scientific outputs of our large investments, using this to inform future priorities
      • assess and prioritise ideas for investments for consideration by Council, providing scientific assurance
    • maintain an overview of and contribute to the pipeline of ideas to identify strategic opportunities for additional funding streams
    • champion multidisciplinary and emerging scientific research challenges
    • work with EPSRC Executive and other EPSRC advisory bodies to make the case for fundamental, discovery research, helping to identify and publicise scientific breakthroughs in the engineering and physical sciences domain
    • improve the two-way communication between EPSRC and the research community
  2. To engage more effectively with the academic and business communities, we will:
    • appoint up to three Deputy Executive Chairs with internationally respected expertise in different areas of our portfolio. An important role for them will be to communicate our vision and funding opportunities to the academic and business community and act as an additional source of advice to us in developing/implementing new funding opportunities
    • appoint a Director of Commercialisation to coordinate commercialisation of university research across UKRI and act as the interface for these activities with IUK and Research England.

International context

Many of today's research challenges are global in nature and need a global response. The formation of UKRI offers exciting opportunities to enhance and extend our international partnerships. We will ensure the best UK researchers can work effectively and efficiently with the best researchers worldwide, wherever they are based. We will continue to embed opportunities to work internationally in our programmes and approaches and look to build on our international centre-to-centre call and strengthen our relationships with colleagues in overseas agencies. We will maintain a focus for collaboration with the USA, Europe, Japan, China and India, while the UKRI Global Challenges Research Fund provides opportunities to reach out further. We are also conscious of Brexit and its potential impact on engineering and physical sciences research, and wider UKRI policy and its implementation will guide our actions.