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The 'Future of Ageing Research - Post Ref 2014'
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The ‘Future of Ageing Research – Post REF 2014’

A report from BSG President, Professor Sheila Peace

BSG ran a special one day event ‘The Future of Ageing Research – Post REF 2014’ on November 11th 2015 at The Wellcome Collection in London which was attended by 116 people -  67 BSG members (including the executive committee) and 28 non-members alongside 21 high profile speakers and chairs. The aim was to reflect on the position of Research Funding, Research Translation and Research Impact at a time when a number of programmes for ageing research have come, or are coming, to an end, and the need for research impact is on-going.  At the beginning of 2015 HEFCE made available a database of impact case studies from the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2014 and announced that Kings College and Digital Science (1) would analyse the case made for research impact. This activity led us to ask a number of questions on behalf of BSG members. What can we learn from the past research programmes concerned with ageing research? Will there be support for further programmes in the future?  What are the views of programme directors and research funders - what have we learnt that we need to capture and take forwards? What are the missing themes, innovative methods, lessons concerning public engagement?

How does government receive the knowledge from ageing research?  What is the purpose of the Foresight programme and how has the research community been involved?  What is the way forward for this source of knowledge transfer?

As academic researchers, how did ageing research feature in the recent HEFCE Research Excellence Framework (REF)?  How did we report making an impact?   Does this differ from the understanding of impact by the funding bodies?  

Finally, how can impact and influence be improved from the perspective of government bodies and major Non-Government Organisations (NGOs).  How do we capture turning an evidence base into application that enhances wellbeing?  How can the BSG help members in making this knowledge transfer?

Prior to the Conference BSG had commissioned consultants from the University of Sheffield to analyse how ageing research was considered within the Impact case Studies of the REF with the intention that the resulting report would be launched at the FAR Conference.
 
These were the issues that we sought to address at the FAR event and the aim was to learn from each other in what is a joint enterprise. The morning focused on the views of those involved in research funding, research translation and research programme management from NGOs, charitable bodies, civil service, and BSG members.  The speakers were:

  • Anna Dixon, CEO for the Centre for Ageing Better
  • Professor Alan Walker, University of Sheffield
  • Joy Todd, Strategic lead for Health and Human Behaviour Research at ESRC
  • James Pickett, Head of Research,  Alzheimer’s Society
  • Jackie Marshall-Cyrus, Lead Specialist on the Independent Living Innovation Platform,  Innovate UK
  • Tom Wells, Head of Policy for the Foresight unit in the Government Office for Science.

The afternoon focused on ‘impact’ within the HEFCE Research Excellence Framework, with reflections from the Chair of Panel C; the views of BSG members as sub-panel members, the findings of research commissioned by the BSG to consider the position of ageing research within this exercise, and then further views on making impact from the NGO sector leading to concluding comments from senior BSG members. The speakers were:

  • Dame Professor Janet Finch, chair of Panel C and  overall chair for the social sciences, Research  Excellence Framework 2014
  • Professor Judith Phillips, University of Swansea;  Professor Alison Bowes, University of Stirling; Professor Sara Arber, University of Surrey and Professor Jane Falkingham, University of Southampton (absent through ill-health)– BSG members who were part of the sub-panels for Units of Assessment 22 – Social Work and Social Policy and 23 – Sociology in REF 2014.
  • Consultants for the REF Impact Case Study Report – Professor Gail Mountain, Professor of Applied Dementia, Scholl of Dementia Studies , University of Bradford/ also Professor of Health Services Research, University of Sheffield;  Surinder Bangar , Research Associate and Impact Specialist, School of Health and related Research, University of Sheffield and Sarah Hargreaves, University of Sheffield.
  • David Sinclair, Director of the ILC-UK
  • Caroline Abrahams, AgeUK’s Charity Director  
  • Professor Chris Phillipson, Professor of Sociology and Social Gerontology, University of Manchester and Executive Director of Manchester Institute for Collaborative Research into Ageing (MICRA)
In addition we were pleased to be joined on the day by members of the British Geriatrics Society with Professor Gordon Wilcock co-chairing with President Elect Debbie Price alongside Past Presidents Professor Robin Means and Professor Mim Bernard, and myself.

Power point presentations are already available from:  Alan Walker, Joy Todd, Tom Wells, BSG REF Sub-panel members, REF Impact Study Team, Chris Phillipson and James Pickett  - FAR POWERPOINTS

Some particular highlights from the day include:

  • Alan Walker’s presentation outlining not only the history of research programmes and his reflections as programme Director but underpinning theory and evidence that has led to important multi-disciplinary research identifying the foundations of quality of life in old age providing a sound knowledge base for policy, practice and product development;
  • Alan Walker talking about the Euro-Age Roadmap and its 8 over-arching principles: a holistic person, a life course perspective, multi-disciplinarity, user/stakeholder engagement, knowledge exchange, diversity, cross-national, cross-cultural, capacity building, maximising technological innovation;
  • Joy Tod reminding us that since 2008 the Life Long Health & Well- being programme has committed £51m, funded 54 awards and 60 PhD and post docs. She said that research on age and ageing has become embedded in the work of RCUKs;
  • Tom Wells talking about how government receives knowledge from research. He said ‘we exist to inform policy-making’, ‘technology provides some solutions to some of the challenges’;
  • Surinder Bangar and colleagues showing us just how multi-disciplinary ageing research is through analysis of the REF Impact Case Studies spanning all 4 disciplinary panels and 33 of the 36 Units of Assessment.  The highest number of case studies were found in Panel A with ‘health’ and ‘societal’ being the most common categories of impact;
  • The BSG panel members highlighting that the quality of outputs in terms of originality, rigour and significance was high.  They argued that impact has to have a clear sense of direction and an evidence and impact trail;  
  • Chris Phillipson ending the day by stressing that there would be a need to develop diverse sources of research funding; social and behavioural scientists will have to develop more confidence in making the case for funding; and that the BSG has a twin responsibility: raising the profile and stressing the importance of our research as social gerontologists; whilst ensuring that we have a strong presence in our home disciplines. We are clearly in a transitional phase.

Moving Forward

Following reflection there are now a number of next steps:

  • Executive Committee to discuss audience questions and queries at committee meeting 20th February 2016
  • Feedback questions forwarded to specific speakers
  • Executive Committee to consider partnership with other organisations e.g. British Geriatrics Society, BSA, SPA to develop other one day events
  • Executive Committee to consider support for members about impact.

New Initiatives

Since the FAR meeting, the government spending review (GRS); the outcome of the Nurse review (2) on the future direction of the research councils and the launch of the Centre for Ageing Better  have taken place outlining new research on those 50 plus by Ipsos-Mori ( see website http://www.ageing-better.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/Later-life-in-2015-Executive-Summary.pdf)  The Press Release issued by the Campaign for Social Sciences (see website https://campaignforsocialscience.org.uk/news/the-campaign-responds-to-the-2015-spending-review/ ) notes that the GSR offers protection for the science budget with an almost zero-inflation environment for research funding. Also noted is a commitment to implement the Nurse Review concerning a review of RCUKs and further consultation. These are all issues that we will be following up and discussing in the Members Bulletin.

Finally, the Executive Committee would like to thank everyone who came to the FAR day for your support and to all BSG members as it is now December we would like to take this opportunity to wish you a wonderful Christmas.


References
1. King’s College London and Digital Science (2015). The nature, scale and beneficiaries of research impact: An initial analysis of Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2014 impact case studies. Bristol: United Kingdom: HEFCE

2. The purpose of the Nurse Review is to examine, and provide recommendations on, how Research Councils can evolve to support research in the most effective ways, reflecting the requirements to secure excellence, promote collaboration and allow agility, and in ways that best contribute to sustainable growth