In his recent CaSE speech, the UK Government Chief Scientific Adviser reported that 63% of the government's challenges have solutions rooted in the behavioural and social sciences. In the area of national security, it is the mission of the Centre for Research and Evidence on Security Threats (CREST) to undertake pioneering research and translational activities that deliver such solutions. To date, our network of 140 researchers from 35 UK and international HEI/SMEs has contributed significant instrumental, conceptual and capacity-building impact for end-users (Independent Review, 2019). These contributions include providing insights into the social and ideological drivers of far-right extremism, developing tools for making inferences about risk from online data, and validating new methods for effective, ethical information elicitation.
Our 2020-2023 plan for CREST builds on this foundation but uses a renewed structure to foster agile, solution-focused activities. Our approach will deliver: (1) research that is tightly bound to the challenges of our funders while remaining world-leading in its contribution to the academy; (2) a step-change in our support for funders' evolving needs and their efforts to translate research into practice; (3) new forms of researcher-stakeholder co-working that promote knowledge exchange, research relevance, and professional development on both sides; and, (4) an engaged, collaborative international community of social scientists contributing to national security.
The renewed Centre, whose 24 researchers and 7 PhDs will work with 9 administrative, communication, and research-to-practice professionals, will pursue three Agendas:
The RESEARCH AGENDA will produce theoretically motivated, high-quality synthetic and original research on key aspects of the funders' challenges. It will comprise eight projects that are solution focused, diverse in disciplinary and methodological approach, and subject to the Centre's ethical and open science standards. In doing so, it seeks both to nurture exploration and new ideas, and to take mature concepts through to field validation.
This Agenda includes mechanisms for DIRECT TASKING, whereby funders will be able to draw on the expertise of the CREST network, securing rapid and timely responses to specific needs. This includes having researchers undertake evaluative and comparative work within the funder, which we view as facilitating impact and capacity building.
To respond to emerging challenges, £900k of CREST's funds will support short-term RESEARCH COMMISSIONING. Funds will be allocated via our established transparent and competitive process that delivers scientific excellence, stakeholder relevance, and value for money.
Combining our existing communication and network activities, the KNOWLEDGE EXCHANGE AGENDA will continue to innovate to ensure that research is communicated effectively across academia, our funders, government and industry, and the public. We will disseminate our findings to the academic community in peer reviewed publications, conference presentations, technical reports, and Open Science materials. We will engage users by focusing our production on fewer, high quality outputs, and by curating the existing CREST knowledge base to maximise its accessibility to time-poor user communities (e.g. via training frameworks).
The CAPACITY-BUILDING AGENDA will grow CREST's vibrant international network through a variety of events, from our biennial 150 attendee conference, to small-scale, challenge-focused residential 'sprints'. We will make a particular effort to reach underrepresented disciplines in order to foster new researcher-stakeholder exchanges, introduce new perspectives, and stimulate synergies across cognate centres and government departments. This Agenda will also train a cohort of seven PhD students, and continue our efforts to provide training and resources for the wider ECR community.