Evaluation of the Future Leaders Fellowships scheme

Research Questions

  1. To what extent is the premise of the FLF scheme unique in the sector?
  2. To what extent and how have FLF processes supported diversity and multidisciplinarity in the fellowship scheme?
  3. To what extent has FLF delivered effective post-award management to support the professional development of the fellows?
  4. What, in practice, is felt to be working more/less well regarding the delivery of the FLF?
  5. What are the unexpected barriers or facilitators to FLF processes and the delivery of the anticipated outcomes, if any?
  6. What lessons are there for future rounds/similar schemes?

The Future Leaders Fellowship (FLF) scheme occupies a unique position within the landscape of early-career researcher programmes in the UK, supporting both UK and international researchers working in a wide range of disciplines and sectors, and encouraging novel and interdisciplinary research projects.

In June 2022, UKRI commissioned RAND Europe to conduct an evaluation of the FLF programme with the aim of understanding the impact of FLF, drawing lessons regarding how programme implementation has enabled impact, and exploring the programme’s value for money. Following on from the evaluation framework report completed in November 2022, this process evaluation sought to understand the extent to which FLF’s organisational targets have been achieved, to assess whether programme management, support and structures have been fit for purpose, and to develop an understanding of barriers and facilitators faced by the programme in relation to its set-up and implementation. Using a bespoke combination of analytical approaches consisting of comparator analysis, case studies and process mapping, this evaluation draws from data collected from key informant interviews (fellows, hosts, UKRI programme management, unsuccessful applicants), FLF management information analysis and document review, to respond to six key evaluation questions around the uniqueness of the scheme, support for diversity and multidisciplinary, and post-award support.

Key Findings

  • Our overall conclusion is that the FLF scheme is in good health and has been delivered well and to the satisfaction of applicants, fellows and host organisations, filling a unique position in the UK research and innovation (R&I) landscape.
  • The FLF scheme seeks to support the diversity and multidisciplinarity of fellows and the scheme is perceived as flexible for unconventional research. However, the application process can be improved for business applicants without academic background or links.
  • While effective post-award support is provided to fellows, there is potential for improvement in academic-business engagement, media and policy engagement, and host institution support and impact.
  • The long-term and flexible nature of support, open approach to funding research, spectrum of post-award support, and ability to learn and adapt over time have been key enablers of the successful implementation of the FLF scheme. However, challenges related to host institutions, business fellows and the Covid-19 pandemic have also been faced, along with more general barriers such as limited exposure and visibility of fellows, and restrictions on FLF funding usage.

Recommendations

Based on the findings, we propose the following set of recommendations to UKRI for consideration in future rounds and similar schemes:

  • Continue to operate a flexible and open scheme with an ongoing focus on EDI.
  • Have a more local and regional focus to FLF call processes to increase the diversity and quality of future FLF cohorts.
  • Build on the successes of the demand management processes put in place at UKRI level and encourage best practices in managing applicant numbers at institutional level.
  • Continue to engage and support business applicants.
  • Continue to monitor and develop ways to support business fellows and applicants.

Research conducted by

This work was prepared for UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and conducted by RAND Europe.

This report is part of the RAND research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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