National Centre for Research Methods 2020-2024

Lead Research Organisation: University of Southampton
Department Name: Sch of Economic, Social & Political Sci


Social science transforms our understanding of the world, underpins the development and evaluation of public policy and business practice and informs national and international debate on matters of social, economic and political importance. While the quality of empirical research clearly depends on many factors, methodology and methods are critical. The ways in which social scientists collect, analyse and interpret social and economic data need to reflect rapid changes such as the emergence of new types and sources of data, the need for interdisciplinary working, qualitative data being produced and analysed at scale and the emergence of machine learning and Artificial Intelligence as new methodological frameworks. Such diversification and proliferation poses significant challenges to the robustness of our science, as does the pace of change. Hence, training social scientists to a high standard in using appropriate, and sometimes new, research methods is of vital and increasing importance.
The proposed National Centre for Research Methods (NCRM) will deliver a comprehensive programme of cutting-edge research methods training across the UK. It will advance methodological understanding and practice across all sectors, disciplines and career stages, and closely engage with key stakeholders, coordinating and enhancing research methods training and capacity building (TCB). The principal aim of the Centre is to increase research methods capability in the social sciences through TCB activities in the application of core and advanced research techniques. It will provide a vehicle for capturing methodological developments from the wider community, both within the social sciences and beyond, and drive them through to capacity building maturity.
The NCRM will be delivered by a partnership of three internationally leading centres of methodological excellence: the Universities of Southampton, Manchester and Edinburgh. This partnership will be significantly enhanced and expanded to include strategically selected Centre partner institutions who, through a nominated NCRM senior fellow, will deliver training locally to ensure geographical and subject expertise diversity. The nine institutions are UCL, NatCen, WISERD, Bristol, Exeter, Essex, Leeds, Liverpool and Glasgow. Effective engagement with key stakeholders will be at the core of all activities, including relevant ESRC investments, government departments, third-sector organisations and with business and industry. There will be several mechanisms for delivering this, e.g. to expand the data resource training network, cross-sectoral involvement in capacity building innovation fora, and through the Centre's Advisory Board. Opportunities for further funding streams and sustainable growth will be explored.
Building on the successful training programme developed and delivered by NCRM, the new NCRM will introduce innovative developments in the structure, content and delivery of training activities. It will comprise four core activities:
1. A programme of innovative face-to-face, blended and online learning in social science research methods delivered where it is needed.
2. A TCB innovation pipeline: a horizon scanning function which blends training needs analysis, systematic audit, knowledge creation and innovation fora to identify areas of methodological innovation with subsequent targeted training and resource development to build capacity in identified domains.
3. A new online learning portal including online learning content and information resources. The NCRM will provide a range of interactive content with a mixture of standalone instant access materials (including e-books, videos, interactive slide decks) through to whole modules based within a VLE.
4. National leadership in social science methods training; engaging, collaborating and co-ordinating activity and providing fora for other trainers.

Planned Impact

Who will benefit? A broad range of academic and non-academic users will benefit from the high quality training and resources in core and advanced social science research methods provided by NCRM. This includes researchers at all career stages, from disciplines within and beyond the social sciences, and from across all sectors, including those working in central and local government, the Office for National Statistics, public and third sector organisations, commercial and not-for-profit data collection agencies and in commercial and market research industries. The direct beneficiaries will be people conducting research, including doctoral researchers. Teachers and trainers of social science research methods will also benefit significantly from the coordination and support of their pedagogic development. Indirect beneficiaries include people planning or commissioning cutting-edge research to address social issues and policy-makers and stakeholders.
How will they benefit? Researchers will benefit by being able to: - Learn new research methods skills, keep up with the latest developments, and refresh and update understanding of core techniques through a flexible programme of face-to-face, blended and online training resources developed and delivered by internationally leading researchers, supported by pedagogic expertise. - Expand their methods competencies, which will help to deliver robust research projects. - Access training at affordable rates in accessible locations throughout the UK. - Access online resources and subscribe for up-to-date information on particular methods and events. - Participate in 'bring your own data' sessions and training using authentic data, available through UKDS, to resolve authentic research challenges.
Teachers and trainers of research methods will benefit from being part of a pedagogic community, accessing debates and materials and conducting teacher inquiry to enrich their practice. Students of research methods will benefit from the ways in which this pedagogic culture will make training increasingly engaging and effective. Given the need for lifelong learning and continuous skills development and training in the face of challenges arising from new technology and new sources of data, the training programme of the NCRM and the coordinated ESRC training investments will have direct impacts on the UK economy through improved employability skills and employment opportunities.
Finally, the NCRM will have an impact on the UK public and the wider economy, through helping to ensure that social science research is of high quality, making best use of methods so that research can lead to better quality evidence and better inform public policy.
What will be done to ensure that they have the opportunity to benefit? The NCRM team is exceptionally well placed to reach out to academic and non-academic users alike. Core members and partners are distributed strategically across expert areas, disciplines, sectors and geographic regions. We will utilise our strong links with key stakeholders across all sectors, built through longstanding research, training and consultancy partnerships. To optimise engagement we will: - Ensure the Advisory Board includes beneficiaries from all sectors who will have a voice in shaping the NCRM strategy and content of the training programme. - Conduct a series of training needs and impact analyses. We will particularly involve key stakeholders and gatekeepers representing the different sectors and disciplines in consultations to ensure that the planned training activities are aligned with user needs. - Operate a comprehensive communication strategy tailored to different groups. This will include mailing lists, e-bulletin, webinar series and social media. We will build on NCRM's current social media presence, while developing an entirely new branding style and identity for NCRM. A monthly e-Bulletin will promote key training activities, methodological developments and opportunities.


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