Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture (ENRA) research programme 2022-2027: mid-programme review report

Findings of the mid-programme review of the Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture research programme 2022 to 2027.

3. Key Findings

Summary of key programme wide observations is provided below.

Research Delivery:

  • Upon commencing the mid-programme review the research programme was only aquarter (15 months) of the way through the five-year delivery duration. Assessing the programme so early in its delivery means we cannot fully communicate the value for money achieved through the research investment.
  • To determine the value for money from an investment we would quantify the economicimpact of the programme in its entirety. To do this we will look to assess a number of future impacts such as gross value added from jobs, spin out companies and intellectual property licences. We would also look to monetise the avoided carbon emissions, social benefits from employment and return to general public from research. All of which cannot be wholly done at this moment in the programme.
  • We know from evaluation of the previous programme[2] that the research delivered withinthis portfolio achieves substantial economic impact. The economic impact of the 2016- 2022 Research Programme was estimated as £470 million to £680 million (£2022). Overall the mid-programme review provides assurance that the programme is on track to deliver research of value to Scotland and significant wider economic impact.
  • Overall, most projects are delivering at an acceptable risk level, however some projects (12, 10%) have met the delivery risk trigger points and must be monitored to ensure risk does not grow to an unacceptable level. The delivery risk triggers include looking at project changes. Changes to a project can be suggested for positive reasons such as to better align project scope and/or seek efficiencies. As such the triggers are only an indication of significant movement in a project and provide a warning for potential future impact to a project’s success.

Research Policy Alignment:

  • Overall the policy prioritisation workshops indicated that all the research undertaken within the SRP is aligning to policy needs and no research projects should be stopped or significantly changed. In some cases research was seen to feed into wider policy spaces than those engaged for example Education or Human Health policy portfolios.
  • The policy prioritisation workshops found that the SRP is delivering 34 (29%) Critical projects. These projects provide evidence that is essential to the success of immediate policy development/decisions.
  • The workshops found that the SRP is delivering 54 (47%) Important projects. Theseprojects provide significant improvements to policy decisions but are more flexible on timing, composition or delivery of outputs, without major damage to Scottish Government.
  • Finally the workshops found the SRP is delivering 28 (24%) Desirable projects.These research projects are considered valuable and can inform long-term thinking or help to broaden the evidence base on a given topic. However, they are not central to delivering key immediate policy priorities. Projects in this space may be of high priority to other stakeholders such as industry or the wider research landscape, and this should be highlighted in future review/decisions.
Research Theme Critical Nr of Projects Critical Year 2 (2023-24) £k Important Nr of Projects Important Year 2 (2023-24) £k Desirable Nr of Projects Desirable Year 2 (2023-24) £k
Theme A: Plant and Animal Health 5 £2,054 12 £2,115 6 £973
Theme B: Sustainable Food System and Supply 9 £1,995 23 £4,608 19 £3,616
Theme C: Human impacts on the Environment 7 £2,329 4 £1,090 0 £-
Theme D: Natural Resources 10 £3,900 9 £2,688 3 £221
Theme E: Rural Futures 2 £388 4 £1,087 0 £-
Theme F: Vision and Impact 1 £238 2 £516 0 £-
Total 34 £10,904 54 £12,105 28 £4,811

SAB Evaluation:

  • SAB agreed the programme research presented was unique and novel, internationally competitive, innovative and in line with best practice internationally. Many projects are attracting/leveraging additional outside funding. Even though it is early in the programme cycle there was much to celebrate with many internationally competitive projects demonstrating good outputs, innovation and relevance to Scotland.
  • SAB confirmed evidence had been provided which demonstrates good progresstoward impact in addressing key policy challenges for Scotland. Both academic publications and interactions with stakeholders were extensive and ongoing, and the connections to relevant agencies and authorities were clear.
  • SAB members agreed the Themes are innovative and not duplicating pastresearch. While there are similar research questions being addressed currently in the UK and internationally, the research undertaken across the SRP is providing unique Scottish insights into the topic areas where there is a need for nationally focussed understanding and policy advice.
  • SAB suggested however that while impacts were emerging across the programme, they need careful tracking, and options for extending and building on them need exploring, including policy engagement over both the short and long term. Across all themes it is important to identify the policy join-up with research projects more clearly and uniformly, and to highlight research links and engagement with practitioners more fully.
  • It was noted the Strategic Research Programme has no clear impact strategy. SABsuggested that increased impact and reach could be achieved by further integration and increased connectivity across the themes and into policy.
  • Themes appeared to be operating in silos and cohesion across the Themes was notclear. This disconnect made it harder to ascertain research gaps. SAB suggested it would be helpful to understand how these cross-theme connections occur operationally.
  • SAB highlighted opportunities to raise awareness of the leading research beingundertaken across the SRP to a more diverse range of stakeholders and practitioners.
  • SAB identified research gaps across the SRP. Members identified that thedemonstration and future implementation of the research outputs was a gap at programme level (i.e. suggesting a need for deep demonstrators).
  • SAB agreed key risks to the SRP were resource limitations, including the loss ofexperienced staff and the need to be responsive to new policy demands over short time frames which can potentially impede the longer term sustained work.

Other Findings:

  • The Strategy of ENRA Research called out the need for responsive and flexibleresearch to reflect changing needs and priorities. In 2023-24 responsive research mechanisms have been reduced due to the ongoing challenging public financial landscape. Discussions with stakeholders throughout the assessment have shown an appetite to increase responsive funding options.
  • Furthermore feedback from policy stakeholders stated the projects within theStrategic Research Programme should be more flexible to align with changing policy direction if appropriate.
  • During project workshops it was understood that projects often had critical elements ofscope, and specific elements of scope could be classified as less critical and/or desirable.
  • Feedback from policy stakeholders also noted two-way knowledge exchangeshould be enhanced between RESAS and policy teams to ensure policy colleagues are aware of ongoing research projects, and in turn the research projects can be greater directed by policy needs.

3.1 Recommendations

The programme wide recommendations, and priority of these, are shown below:

SAB Recommendations Must Do

  • SAB recommended more formal mechanisms are adopted to support cross- programme working, particularly when addressing key policy challenges such as climate change, sustainable food production, and biodiversity loss. Further, all SRP Themes should meet together to discuss commonalities (e.g. in big data handling, AI) and coordination.
  • The ENRA Research programme should consider developing a formal Impact Strategy.
  • RESAS should identify the policy join-up with research projects more clearly and uniformly, and to highlight research links and engagement with practitioners.

Should Do

  • To further enhance flexibility in the research ongoing, engagement should include an opportunity for jointly refining the research questions using available information and expertise, feasibility and time frames so they are suited to rapid investigation and/or synthesis of existing information.
  • SAB recommended more use of ‘deep demonstrators’ across the programme, like the Theme E Living Labs, to link science and policy to practitioners.

Could Do

  • SAB recommended more explicit capturing of the impact of short-term policy demands on staff, drawing them away from their long-term research, could be helpful for future resourcing.

RESAS PMO Recommendations Must Do

  • Projects which meet a delivery risk trigger point should be considered an ongoing delivery risk. RESAS Topic Lead and RESAS PMO should undertake further consultation to evaluate project delivery against original research questions, and proposal timescales to ensure the project is still able to meet desired requirements.

Should Do

  • Flexibility within ongoing research projects should be maximised to meet the needs of policy and availability of responsive research should be increased, perhaps through the Support to Policy functionality of UNC.
  • Where elements of SRP project scope could be classified as less priority RESAS should identify this and consider delivery. Similarly, if research overlaps that being delivered by another funder this should be identified and rationalised.

All the mid-programme review outputs and recommendations are to be used in portfolio management decisions to improve delivery and maximise value for money within the programme.


Email: SRF@gov.scot

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