Science, Trust and Policy-making

The British Academy is inviting proposals from UK based researchers in the humanities, social sciences, and the arts (the SHAPE subjects) to explore public expectations and beliefs about the role and trustworthiness of science in policy-making across different areas of policy. To respond to the topic of this scheme, we are inviting researchers to explore 'Under what conditions is science viewed as relevant and authoritative in policy-making?'
Funding status
Open for applications
Career stage
Established researcher, Mid-career, Postdoctoral or equivalent research, Senior researcher
Earliest start date
1 Sep 2022
Scheme opens date
27 May 2022
Deadline date
06 Jul 2022 - 16:00 GMT
Duration of award
12 months
Contact details

policy@thebritishacademy.ac.uk

The British Academy is inviting proposals from UK based researchers in the humanities, social sciences, and the arts (the SHAPE subjects) to explore:

Under what conditions is science viewed as relevant and authoritative in policy-making?

The aim is to examine which factors influence why particular policy issues are seen (by the media and by the public) as requiring scientific evidence to underpin decisions; and, linked to this, what types of scientific claims have most traction and ability to elicit trust.

Research arising from this call will feed into a significant new British Academy policy project on this topic. The outcome of the research under this scheme and complementary British Academy work in this area will conclude in a report and recommendations for the Prime Minister's Council for Science and Technology.

Scope of the call

This call for research aims to understand how government and the scientific community can help foster public interest and engagement in the science underpinning policy. It does so through focusing on the conditions under which science and scientific claims come to be viewed as relevant, authoritative and trustworthy by the public, with particular attention to the role of government and the scientific community in communicating science.

The research question can further be broken down into two elements: Which factors influence why particular policy issues are seen (by the media and by the public) as requiring scientific evidence to underpin decisions? And what types of scientific claims have most traction and ability to elicit trust?

Based on existing literature, we recognise that the following factors are among those likely to play a role:

  • Nature of the societal challenge (more technically complex areas, or those characterised by risk, may be more obviously amenable to scientific interventions)
  • Level of political contestation (more salient and contested areas may encourage marshalling of science to support rival positions, undermining the authority of science and/or may encourage mis/disinformation to surface in different ways)
  • Level of scientific certainty (scientifically contested theories or claims may be less likely to elicit trust or consensus)
  • Extent to which and how the relevant publics think they will be affected by the societal challenge in question.
  • Government approach to invoking science (more visible/prominent marshalling of science may influence public views on the relevance of science)
  • Features of the scientific disciplines/communities being mobilised (e.g. medical sciences may elicit more trust because of proven success/advances in medicine and trust in health professionals)
  • Effectiveness of science communication (investment in training/ professionalisation of science communication may lead to more exposure and traction in public communications)

Applicants will be expected to set out clearly which of these, or indeed other, assumptions (including those which may challenge these assumptions) will guide their analysis and be further tested during the work.

In order to address the questions above, we expect to commission a project with two interlinked parts (please see the scheme notes for additional information), with each part supported by/closely coordinating with the British Academy’s policy team. Applicants are encouraged to provide commentary on value for money and economies of scale building on existing work and insights held by the research team.

Eligibility requirements 

The lead applicant must be a researcher from the humanities or social sciences and be based at an eligible UK university or research institute. The lead applicant must be of postdoctoral status or above (or have equivalent research experience) and their position must last at least the duration of the grant funded by the Academy.

Projects can involve Co-Applicants and other participants. No individual may be a Co-Applicant on more than two projects under this call (nor may a PI be additionally a Co-Applicant on more than one other project).

For more details about the programme and the eligibility requirements, please see the scheme notes.

Value and duration

We expect to make an award of up to £100,000. The award will start in September 2022 for a duration of 12 months.

Funding can be used to support the time of the PI and Co-Applicants; research assistance; travel, fieldwork and related expenses; and networking costs.

Projects must begin in September 2022.

The timetable for deliverables will be agreed upon by successful applicants and The British Academy.

Application process 

Applications must be submitted online using the British Academy's Grant Management System (GMS), Flexi-Grant®.

The deadline for submissions and UK institutional approval is on 6 July 2022, 17:00 (BST).

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