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Celebrating civil society research: a new chapter

This week the Wales Institute of Social and Economic Research and Data (WISERD, a collaborative venture between the universities of Aberystwyth, Bangor, Cardiff, South Wales and Swansea), launched their five-year plan for civil society research at a stakeholder event at the Senedd. Their new research will explore social and economic inequality, migration and multiculturalism, the foundational economy, the changing dynamics of work, and animal rights and A.I.

Celebrating civil society research – a new chapter was attended by over 70 people, including key stakeholders from public, private, policy and third sectors. Guest speakers included Mark Drakeford AM, First Minister of Wales and Professor Alison Park, Director of Research at the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

The new Civil Society Centre is the result of £6.3m funding from the ESRC, part of UK Research and Innovation, and will seek to answer some of the most pressing questions facing society today. It will develop and extend the policy-relevant research from the previous civil society programme.

At the event, First Minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford said: “WISERD’s success is testament to its collaborative approach with universities and charities across Wales, Europe, and the world. Facts have never been more important, and having a world-class knowledge hub helping us in Government to make the right decisions, will help us build a better Wales for us, and for our future generations.”

The new Civil Society Centre will comprise a number of interdisciplinary research projects conducted under four themes:

The event offered stakeholders the opportunity to network with lead researchers working on the new projects, and also to view an exhibition of some of the key findings from previous civil society research.

Ian Rees Jones, Civil Society Centre Director: “I am delighted we have been awarded further funding from a highly competitive programme. This is testament to the hard work of all our WISERD researchers and staff, the continuing support from the core WISERD universities, and our different civil society and policy partners.

“The research will allow us to address the ways in which citizenship and associated rights are sites of change and contention in a rapidly changing world. It is a golden opportunity for WISERD to grow as a creative centre and home to international research leaders, and to deliver ground-breaking interdisciplinary research based on a culture of freedom of thought and ideas."

Throughout their civil society research to date, WISERD researchers have been involved in developing tools and resources that aim to help researchers search for, analyse and share data more effectively. The WISERD DataPortal, WISERD UnionMaps and Understanding Welsh Places were all demonstrated on an interactive stand at the event.

The WISERD DataPortal will be further developed as part of the new Civil Society Centre over the next five years, in addition to the newly established WISERD Education Data Lab. As the only university-based data lab in the UK, it will bring together all administrative data on children in school and link this to other data sources. This will allow education researchers to perform advanced analyses into areas such as pupil and school performance, impact of GCSE early entry, and patterns and predictors of school exclusions.

The winner of WISERD’s first photography competition was also announced at the event. WISERD asked: “What does civil society mean to you?” and over 40 entrants provided a range of perspectives, depicting everything from striking workers and climate protesters to local communities working together to address global problems. Three finalists’ work was displayed and visitors voted for their favourite. The winning entry, entitled ‘People Power’ was from Alexandra Williams, Cardiff University.

Sally Power, WISERD Director said: “This event, Celebrating Civil Society Research – A New Chapter, recognises a magnificent achievement by my colleagues, and a tremendous amount of support and participation from our stakeholders, for which we are very grateful. Our stakeholders have helped us to identify the challenges that face civil society and explore ways in which we might address these.

“We are particularly grateful to Mark Drakeford AM, First Minister of Wales, for hosting and speaking at this event. We would also like to thank Alison Park from the Economic and Social Research Council, not only for joining us to celebrate our work, but also for her contribution to ensuring the Council continues to support excellent, independent and impactful social science.”

The support of the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is gratefully acknowledged.

Publication date: 14 February 2020