Engaging the social sciences with business

Tim Vorley 150x150Professor Tim Vorley is convening the ESRC and Innovate UK-funded Innovation Caucus. Based at Sheffield University Management School, Tim is a Professor of Entrepreneurship and Co-Director of Centre for Regional Economic and Enterprise Development. His research focuses on the role of institutions in creating more entrepreneurial economies and promoting local economic development.

mk-photoMelanie Knetsch is ESRC’s Strategic Lead for Challenges. 
Part of her role includes developing ESRC’s thinking and activities around interdisciplinary, challenge-led activities and ensuring that our research portfolio is more visible to potential users, as well as creating opportunities to enable researchers from other communities to engage with social science.

This blog looks at how the social sciences can and should engage with businesses to realise the impact of research based insights.

A recent report published by the ESRC shows that social scientists are becoming increasingly engaged through their research. This is testament to how the knowledge exchange agenda has become embedded and been embraced. That said, what disciplines are involved varies, as does who they are engaging with. It is also striking, if not entirely unsurprising, that social scientists are more likely to engage with charitable and public sector organisations (49 per cent) than with businesses (30 per cent).

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Expanding horizons

There are, of course, many reasons for this. However, it is important to emphasise that this is not for a lack of relevant insight! Indeed, this raises an important question about how the social sciences can and should engage with businesses to realise the impact of research-based insights. If opportunities for businesses engagement are in the eye of the beholder, then there is a need to make social scientists more aware about the possibilities. If we cannot identify our own value, we cannot expect others to see it.pablo-21

Engaging with business is not the privileged domain of engineering and the sciences. The challenge, however, is ensuring that the value of the social sciences is not overlooked by businesses, or worse goes unrecognised. The onus, therefore, is on social scientists to demonstrate the relevance of their research to business,  just as they have to charitable and public sector organisations. This is about translation, making research insights accessible where the findings are non-obvious and engaging with businesses to co-produce new knowledge.

Terms of engagement

Since the private sector is highly heterogeneous, this needs to be reflected in how social scientists engage with businesses.
pablo-22Whether micro businesses or multinationals, the social sciences can provide private sector organisations with research-based insights about complex social problems and how society works. Unfortunately, these findings can be lost in translation or fall foul of the missing link that is business engagement, and their impact for businesses lost.

This is not to suggest that all social scientists should be engaging with businesses, but rather highlight the possibilities for engagement.

The Innovation Caucus, a project jointly funded by the ESRC and Innovate UK, is working to develop resources to support business engagement for social sciences. This is in part about understanding ways of working to engage with business, but it is also to recognise the value of social science to business. If you are engaging in business and want to get more involved in supporting other social scientists with business engagement or want to know more about how social scientists can engage with business then please get in touch.


You can contact the authors by email at melanie.knetsch@esrc.ac.uk and tim.vorley@sheffield.ac.uk.

You can follow both Tim (@timvorley), Melanie (@mel_knetsch) and the Innovation Caucus (@InnovCaucus) on Twitter.

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