New £10 million hub for behavioural research to be co-led by UCL academics

Group of people interacting
Group of people interacting

UCL’s Professor Susan Michie will co-lead a new UK hub for behavioural research to help tackle societal and economic challenges.

Behavioural Research UK (BR-UK) is supported by a £10 million grant from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), and will form the centrepiece of ESRC’s investment in behavioural research.

The five-year funding will support BR-UK to build a behavioural research community to address these challenges, driving interdisciplinary innovation.

The new hub will be co-led by Professor Susan Michie (Director of UCL’s Centre for Behaviour Change and Chair of Health Psychology in the Division of Psychology and Language Sciences), and Professor Linda Bauld (Bruce and John Usher Chair of Public Health at The University of Edinburgh’s Usher institute and Chief Social Policy Advisor to the Scottish Government).

Leading academics across a range of disciplines from eight universities - UCL, Edinburgh, Cardiff, Manchester, Oxford, Queens University Belfast, Sheffield and St Andrews - will join forces with partners from government, industry and charities.

These include the Scottish and Welsh Governments, government departments and agencies in Northern Ireland, and organisations covering transport, food security, health protection, communication, entrepreneurship, and other areas.

The collaboration will provide leadership to harness, connect and extend the UK’s existing capacity and capability in behavioural research. It will also support the mobilisation of research into policy and practice.

BR-UK will support effective future policy-making, service delivery and innovation. This includes establishing a service to help research users draw on behavioural expertise to address any challenges they may face, for example when environmental, political, health or social shocks occur.

The team have ambitious plans, including setting up a fund to support exemplar projects to drive behavioural research advances.

BR-UK will be underpinned by community involvement, equity and social justice, with systems thinking and the importance of context at its core.

The award is part of a larger £17 million investment in behavioural research from the ESRC, which will include development and training opportunities for academics and practitioners from a wide range of sectors.

Professor Michie, said: "We look forward to enabling the development of research and translational methodologies, interdisciplinarity and collaborations in a strategic way to bring about a step-change in the quality and quantity of behavioural research that both advances scientific understanding and is useful and useable. 

"Building on our strong group of researchers and partners, we aim to engage those generating and using behavioural knowledge across the four nations to build structures and activities that will continue with its own impetus for many years after this five-year programme."

Professor Bauld, said: "BR-UK builds on decades of research to understand human behaviour. Covid-19 has reminded us, even more than before, that behaviour is shaped by context. Unless we understand how society is changing in the UK and how people respond to these changes, then governments, businesses and organisations will struggle to adapt.

"Our partnership of academics, policy makers, commercial and voluntary sector organisations across all four nations will work together to accelerate the use of evidence to help address challenges facing us now and in the future."

Deputy Director, Dr Sharon Cox (UCL Behavioural Science and Health), said: "This ambitious and exciting leadership hub represents a real commitment to behavioural research within the UK, bringing together key academics, policy makers, NGOs and allied professionals, to use the evidence to create change. What is more exciting for me, are the new scientific pathways and practices we will create and strengthen by taking a truly transdisciplinary approach."

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