What? Why? Who?
You may have heard that EPSRC, alongside its sister councils within UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), has begun developing a new Strategic Delivery Plan. But what do we mean by a Strategic Delivery Plan? A good question, and in truth we are still working that through in detail but we know that it should build on existing plans and look forward to the next Spending Review period. In that sense it will balance high level ambitions with more specific priorities that very much relate to our engineering and physical sciences community.
You might also ask why do we need a new Delivery Plan when the last one was published just two years ago in 2016? Another good question, but the fact is that two years is a long time in a fast moving and changing landscape like ours and we need to review our plans and ensure they are still relevant to the current and future context in which we are working. Not least of which is the recent Higher Education and Research Act (2017) from which UKRI was formed, and the Government's commitment to a modern Industrial Strategy and associated uplift in research and development investment.
In that context you could question who the Strategic Delivery Plan is aimed at - our research community, UKRI or the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS)? It is essential that we set out how we intend to spend the resources allocated to EPSRC to all these audiences and the wider public. The research community needs to know what our priorities are and how to apply to the various opportunities that will evolve from these to ensure we continue to invest in excellent research and training across the UK. UKRI need to understand how our plans and priorities fit alongside the other UKRI councils to ensure that collectively we are delivering against the UKRI objectives of 'Pushing the frontiers of human knowledge'; 'Delivering economic impact and creating better jobs'; and 'Creating social impact by supporting our society to become stronger and healthier'. And BEIS need to understand how our plans and priorities will contribute to the Government's modern Industrial Strategy and ambitious commitment to reach 2.4% of GDP investment in research and development by 2027.
So clearly the Strategic Delivery Plan is an important document but the good news for me (as I'm responsible within EPSRC for pulling it together), is that we are not starting from scratch. We will build on our 2016 Delivery Plan, "Science for a Successful Nation", and our 2015 Strategic Plan. With our communities' support we have already made good progress against our plans, and want to ensure that we build on this momentum and success.
Community engagement is critical for success
Just as we engaged with our community to develop those plans, we are keen to engage our stakeholders again as we develop our Strategic Delivery Plan. To get the ball rolling, in June we held four regional workshops in London, Glasgow, Birmingham and Southampton to specifically seek community input into how we might evolve the existing Prosperity Outcomes framework, namely how EPSRC helps deliver a more Productive, Connected, Resilient and Healthy Nation. We also considered how the key aspects of a fast-changing research environment, including research infrastructure; people and skills; impact and innovation; and partnerships could help realise the EPSRC outcomes approach.
All the workshop participants actively contributed, providing constructive feedback on the current Delivery Plan and views on how to build on the plan going forward. In particular we asked for input on how we could make the desired outcomes from our investments more specific to engineering and physical sciences to better understand the potential interventions that might be needed from EPSRC.
With over 150 attendees across the four workshops, and with representatives from the UKRI Board and EPSRC Council as well as individuals from universities and business, there were plenty of 'post-its' and rich discussions at the various facilitated work stations. But don't take my word for it - read on for some honest views from our workshop participants.
"I appreciated the spirit of openness and open mindedness; I was pleased to see industry well represented; and I look forward to seeing the outcome."
Sir Peter Bazalgette, UKRI Board
"Great to be able to contribute to the development of the next Delivery Plan, and as always some lively debate and challenging issues discussed in a constructive manner. It's not going to be easy to satisfy all of the many stakeholders, and the UK faces some difficult choices in how to deploy its resources in a globally competitive environment. I am hopeful that the eventual output will be a strong and positive plan that helps maintain the UK's leading scientific position and simultaneously supports growth and prosperity for the country."
Mark Jefferies, Rolls-Royce plc
"As a new EPSRC Council member it was a pleasure to be involved in the Strategic Delivery Plan Workshop at Southampton. It offered a real opportunity for the community to voice their views to EPSRC regarding the future strategic direction of research in the Engineering and Physical Sciences. It was great to see the level of engagement across both the academic and business research community, from many diverse and complementary disciplines, in considering the key strategic issues that we face in Engineering and Physical Sciences as we develop our Strategic Delivery Plan."
Andy Wright, EPSRC Council
"As we reflected on the most pertinent research questions both now and in the future, it was striking how the tools, devices and scientific understanding provided by engineering, physical sciences and mathematics underpin the other disciplines within UKRI, from data analytics applied to social media through personalised healthcare, to climate modelling. Engagement with a strong EPSRC community is therefore essential for other research areas within UKRI to flourish and to accelerate the translation of research to positive benefits to society, economy and the environment."
Dr Sarah Harris, University of Leeds and Professor Bashir Al-Hashimi, University of Southampton
A huge thank you to all participants that gave up their time to attend and contribute. We are now busy pulling together the feedback so we can build on our initial thinking and start to draft the plan.
Our community engagement does not end here. EPSRC is having similar discussions, using the workshop questions, with our Strategic Advisory Teams (SAT) and Strategic Advisory Network (SAN) workgroup over the summer. We are aiming to bring all these inputs together at our annual EPSRC SATs conference in September and again at the EPSRC Key Partner's event in October before seeking advice from our SAN in November on the overall content of the Strategic Delivery Plan. EPSRC Council is being kept regularly informed of our progress and will ultimately approve the final Strategic Delivery Plan that we will submit to the UKRI Board in early 2019.