Third World Social Science Fellows Seminar

World Social Science Fellows Seminars

Linda Hantrais introduces the discussions, debates and report that arose from the recently held third World Social Science Fellows Seminars.

The International Social Science Council’s (ISSC) Fellows Programme aims to create the next generation of social science leaders by focusing on global social challenges and priorities with particular relevance to developing countries.

The UK Academy of Social Science (AcSS) in partnership with the LSE Centre for International Studies hosted the third in the ISSC series of World Social Science Fellows Seminars in London from 29 July to 3 August 2014. Twenty Fellows from around the world spent five intensive days exploring the many facets and understandings of ‘Global Social Governance’, while simultaneously developing their experience of international collaborative social science research, and learning how to impact the policy process most effectively. At venues provided by the British Council, LSE and British Library, the Fellows worked together with participants from the global North and South, and with leading international specialists, policy advisers, practitioners and publishers, to exchange knowledge about different approaches to inter- and transdisciplinary research, their methodologies, the gaps and problematics of emerging themes.

The Fellows had opportunities to chair, lead and report on conversations and panel discussions with experts on both global social governance and the policy process, at the same time as collaboratively planning themed sections of journals, special issues, edited book and project proposals. Valuable advice was proffered on international networking, project funding and dissemination from experienced researchers and administrators, preparing the Fellows for the return to their home institutions and regions ready to develop and consolidate their careers as international research leaders.

A report on the proceedings from the Seminar is now available for researchers around the world to use as a resource both in their own work and in training future generations of social scientists.

As illustrated by the report, several approaches were adopted in delivering the programme in an effort to combine substantive discussions with practical training. Five sessions were devoted to critical enquiries into global social governance. They took the form of carefully planned and structured conversations between the Fellows and specialists in the relevant fields.

In the first conversation, which sought to explicate different perspectives on global social governance, the Fellows engaged with Bob Deacon, recognised as a leading international expert on the topic, and founding editor of the journal of Global Social Policy, together with David Lewis, known for his trail-blazing work on non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and civil society in development.

A number of the Fellows shared a specialist interest in the relationship between climate change and global social governance. Ian Gough, with his background in economics and social policy, and Adam Cooper, with his training in neuroscience, brought to the debate the social and human dimensions of climate change on a worldwide scale, advocating ’eco-social policy’ and raising issues of social justice.

The humanitarian perspective was pursued by Kirsten Ainley, who focused on the individual and collective responsibility ‘to protect’, as developed by international relations specialists and political theorists.

In their conversation, Ernestina Coast and Emily Freeman, from the perspective of demographers interested in the relationship between social context and demographic behaviour, addressed the questions raised when researchers are assessing the possible impacts of their work on health professionals, journalists, members of international and national civil society, civil servants, members of parliament and international academics, as well as the subjects of the research.

Drawing on the lived experience of the two speakers, the conversation with Ruth Kattumuri from the LSE Asia Research Centre, and Susanne MacGregor from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, focused on key issues that surround evidence-based social policy research and the ways in which it can make inroads into the policy process at the global and local level, with particular reference to India. The discussion spanned the history of evidence-based policy research; the role played by context; ways of building bridges between research and policy; what works and what does not work, and why, including problems of implementation.

In a panel discussion, four researchers with experience of working as policy advisers – Abbi Hobbs and Caroline Kenny at the UK Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, Nicola Ranger at the UK Department for International Development, and Andrew Sors, formerly at the Directorate General for Research & Development in the European Commission – engaged with the Fellows in exploring the relationship between research and policy across disciplinary and national boundaries. The panel proffered valuable advice about how to overcome the challenges and constraints of working in a policy environment in the UK and Europe.

Interspersed with the conversations, the sessions on research opportunities covered the many ways of accessing resources from those provided by the British Council (Claire McNulty) through their worldwide network of offices and programmes designed to promote mobility; to the British Library’s international research collections (Jude England), and university research offices, such as that at the LSE (Aygen Kurt-Dickson).

International networking is a key activity in the career development of future research leaders. Representatives from the AcSS’s member Learned Societies advised the Fellows on how to use professional associations to maximise career opportunities. Sally Hardy, Chief Executive Officer and Gordon Dabinett, Honorary Vice-Chair, of the Regional Studies Association (RSA), explained how the Fellows could make their work known by exploiting international conferences, publications and networking, including through social media. Nick Ellison, Chair of the UK Social Policy Association (SPA), provided another perspective on the opportunities for career development through membership of the SPA, and its scholarly associations and reciprocal arrangements in other countries.

In his capacity as Head of the Brussels Office for the Eurotech Universities Alliance, Andrew Sors responded to questions from the Fellows on interdisciplinary networking supported by EU funding. Laura Camfield from the School of International Development, University of East Anglia, drew on her research experience to offer the Fellows advice on international networking, cascading and dissemination strategies, stressing the importance of engagement with different audiences, and of defining and following plausible ‘impact pathways’.

In the course of the Seminar, the Fellows were able to discuss publishing opportunities with representatives of library services (LSE Library Research Support Services) on open access, and publishing houses (Edward Elgar, Palgrave Macmillan, Policy Press, SAGE, Taylor & Francis, Wiley–Blackwell), on the publishing process both online and in print, and in journals and books.

Feedback from the Fellows indicated that the Seminar had largely fulfilled its objectives and had met their expectations. They appreciated the prestige conferred by being selected as ISSC World Social Science Fellows, as well as the experience gained from working collaboratively and sharing cross-cutting perspectives on a topic that brings together researchers, practitioners and policy makers.

The Seminar was generously sponsored at the London School of Economics by the Centre for International Studies (CIS), the Suntory Toyota Centre for Economics and Related Disciplines (Sticerd), the Asia Research Centre (ARC), and the Departments of International Relations and Social Policy. Additional support was provided by the Department of Social Policy and Social Work at the University of York, the School of Geographical and Earth Sciences at the University of Glasgow, the Leeds Social Science Institute, the Social Sciences Division at Oxford University, and the UK’s Regional Studies Association and Social Policy Association. Several publishers – Edward Elgar, Palgrave Macmillan, Policy Press, Routledge Taylor & Francis, SAGE and Wiley–Blackwell – provided financial and practical support as well as making copies of books and journals available to the Fellows.