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From NHS innovations to addressing inequalities in the labour market: new report reveals real-world impact of humanities and social sciences research

25 Jan 2024

A new report sheds light on the tangible impact of UK SHAPE (Social Sciences, Humanities and the Arts for People and the Economy) research on the wellbeing of society, culture and the economy through a collection of case studies.

"The SHAPE of Research Impact" is the result of a major collaboration between the British Academy and the Academy of Social Sciences. Drawing from the Research Excellence Framework 2021 (REF21) Impact Case Study (ICS) dataset, the report highlights powerful examples of the contribution of SHAPE research to cultural and societal wellbeing and economic prosperity in the UK. Crucially, "The SHAPE of Research Impact" demonstrates how:

  • SHAPE research is bolstering UK expertise and strength in areas of competitive advantage.
  • SHAPE research is tackling societal challenges.
  • SHAPE research helps to understand people and empower communities here in the UK.
  • SHAPE research spreads beyond traditional disciplinary boundaries to create impact.
  • SHAPE research is a smart investment, with impact providing value for money.

Some key examples of SHAPE impact examined in the report include:

  • Software modules and service systems that enable manufacturing companies to collaborate more effectively in the supply chain, resulting in €10 million annual cost savings and a 30% increase in procurement speed for a major aerospace firm.
  • The development of Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru, an online Welsh language dictionary and mobile app, which has been used more than 3 million times by those learning the Welsh language.
  • Research revealing that 42,000 of the current UK prison population has some form of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) led to changes in the UK’s judicial and health policies.
  • Research into Norse myth and saga and its accounts of warrior women, monster-slaying, curses, and sacrifice helped inform the development of Hellblade, a multi-award winning video game, which has sold over 1.5 million copies.

The British Academy and the Academy of Social Sciences commissioned researchers at the Leverhulme Centre for Demographic Science to assess the value of research in the SHAPE disciplines and its global societal impact.

The resulting report, published today, establishes a robust evidence base for the higher education sector and policymakers to explore and articulate the value of research both in the UK and around the world.

Professor Simon Swain FBA, the British Academy’s Vice-President for Research and Higher Education Policy, said: 

"This report demonstrates the extensive and profound global impact of the SHAPE disciplines. It shows how the humanities and social sciences deliver impact beyond academic excellence and are fundamental to improving our daily lives. They shape public policy, cultural experiences, and societal understanding. As we confront the increasingly complex challenges of today’s world, the insights derived from SHAPE research are of fundamental value, providing essential guidance for a more informed, resilient, and prosperous society."

Dr Rita Gardner CBE FAcSS, the Academy of Social Sciences’ Chief Executive, said:  

“This report clearly illustrates how research in the social sciences and humanities disciplines has led to substantial impact and innovation across society and the economy, helping to create a better world for all. Investment in these sectors provides value for money too; disciplines that have had relatively modest levels of research funding are consistently delivering high numbers and quality, and a remarkable breadth, of impact case studies. To build on the UK’s world leading strengths in SHAPE disciplines, we now need a clearer sense from governments of how the research pipeline can continue to deliver what’s needed for society and the economy, and for SHAPE disciplines to be appropriately funded to do so.”

Professor Melinda Mills MBE FBA FAcSS, Lead investigator and Director of the Leverhulme Centre for Demographic Science, said: 

“It was fascinating to uncover the breadth of real-world impact from social sciences and humanities researchers within government and industry to the improvement of everyday lives. Our use of generative AI, combined with human coding and qualitative research, allowed us to discover over 80 core areas of impact – all of which can be explored on our interactive online dashboard. High impact research is also clearly more inter- and multidisciplinary, with social science and humanities researchers often making impact within medical and physical science realms, highlighting the importance of SHAPE within STEM and beyond.”

Contact the press office

For further information contact the Press Office on [email protected]  / 020 7969 5273 / 07500 010 432.

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