Skip to main content

PartnershipsPeoplesbarc | sparkSPARK

On the road to a wiser society

23 August 2023
SPARK convenes social science-led expertise to tackle complex societal challenges. Driven by creativity, curiosity, and entrepreneurship, its researchers aim to create a ‘wiser society’ to help individuals, communities and organisations better respond to these issues. Here, academic director Professor Chris Taylor, sets out a roadmap for how the Social Science Research Park aims to contribute to a wiser society over the next three years.

“Social science research has reached a major turning point. The challenges facing society are increasing and becoming more complex: addressing economic inequalities and social injustice, developing effective public services and reducing human damage to our natural environment remain elusive.

In SPARK, we recognise there are no simple solutions. Research alone cannot provide answers. As the world’s first social science research park, centred on complexity, uncertainty, and imagination, we aim to address goals that are constantly changing, and where every solution has variable consequences, often dependent on local conditions.

Co-locating leading social science researchers with private companies, public bodies, the third sector and community organisations, we work towards a common purpose – to create a wiser society: helping individuals, communities and organisations understand and develop solutions to the challenges we collectively face in ways that also contribute to fairer and more equitable outcomes.

Central to the SPARK community are Cardiff University’s social science-led research centres and institutes, generating over £10M of annual research income to undertake theoretically informed, solution-oriented, mixed methods and interdisciplinary research.

Our expertise covers a wide range of social and economic research areas, including: crime and security, public health improvement, children and adult social care, innovation policy, education, employability and workplaces, public service innovation, housing and homelessness, the circular economy, civil society and social participation, creative industries, regional and place-based economics, mental health and wellbeing, online hate and crime, climate change behaviours, digital innovation, and public policy improvement.

Our SPARK Roadmap (2023-25) provides a general framework for our community of academic researchers, private sector companies, public sector bodies, third sector organisations and local community organisations to achieve our collective ambitions, working with our sister organisation, Cardiff Innovations, to foster and develop industry partnerships.

First, we will develop a community in SPARK that is invested in the overarching vision of addressing complex challenges facing societies: co-locating producers and users of social science research; supporting a research and innovation ecosystem that attracts sustained investment and encouraging the co-production and co-utilisation of research and its outcomes.

Second, we aim to promote and support organisational learning across the SPARK community and our partners. Our core learning objectives are how to achieve genuine and meaningful collaboration across disciplines and systems, deal with uncertainty and complexity, and create long-term, sustainable, impacts. We will do this by developing resources and tools to create, retain, transfer, and utilise our learning.

In addition, we will encourage greater creativity and experimentation. Designing, testing and refining research practices – methodological, theoretical, and organisational – will encourage greater imagination in the production and use of social science-led research to address complex challenges. We will design and test our own solutions but will focus on the wellbeing goals of the Future Generations Act in Wales: prosperity, resilience, healthiness, equality, cohesiveness, cultural vibrancy, and global responsibility.

Finally, we will scale up our learning and research to maximise impact. Using our learning to influence policymaking and systems change, we will scale out our research and innovations to other contexts, and scale deep, creating new social relationships and meeting local needs. We will do this by designing ambitious programmatic research, developing integrated outputs, and ensuring our work contributes to a wiser society through civic anchors, serving benefits to their local communities.

In short, we will share our story to provide inspiration, insight, and leadership to other ventures around the world. We work with nearly 100 academic and non-academic organisations outside the UK and across every continent of the world. By applying and testing our research locally, SPARK aims to deliver a step change in tackling complex global challenges.”

Professor Chris Taylor, Director, SPARK.