In May 2019, the Scottish Government commissioned a study to conduct a structure-function analysis of the Scottish Environment Food and Agriculture Research Institutes (SEFARI).
1.1 SEFARI Context
The Scottish Government's Rural Affairs, Food and Environment (RAFE) research strategy for 2016-2021 informs its expected five-year investment of over £250 million in a Strategic Research Portfolio composed of the following elements:
- A Strategic Research Programme and associated Centre for Knowledge Exchange and Impact (CKEI), delivered principally through six main research providers (MRPs)
- Underpinning Capacity funding of MRPs to sustain infrastructures considered essential to current and future research outputs
- Four Centres of Expertise (CoEs) designed to focus resources from across the publicly funded research sector in areas of high policy importance
- A Contract Research Fund, providing flexibility to commission short-term policy led projects.
SEFARI, developed as an entity that would sharpen the collective focus of MRPs in delivering and communicating their Strategic Research Programme contributions, was launched by the Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform in March 2017. The funded CKEI element of the Strategic Research Programme was re-positioned as SEFARI Gateway, currently described as the knowledge exchange and impact hub for SEFARI.
1.2 Objectives of the Study
The objectives of this study are to:
- Understand the spectrum of research and knowledge exchange activities performed by MRPs and other research providers in the context of the Strategic Research Portfolio
- Analyse how the research providers currently relate their research and knowledge exchange activities to the MRP collective identity as SEFARI, and how they benefit from this collective identity
- Identify opportunities to optimise the design of the next cycle of funding beyond 2021 to deliver the best outcomes, drawing on the MRPs and joint SEFARI activity, alongside the CoEs and other bodies
Following a 2019 review of the funding models of RESAS-funded science, and in order to understand the complex landscape for SEFARI research, we need to understand: the interactions of the Strategic Research Portfolio with stakeholders; the contributions of MRPs, CoEs, the SEFARI and SEFARI Gateway to the knowledge exchange and impact agenda of the Strategic Research Portfolio; and how strategic intent and value of the SEFARI identity can be best realised and contribute to the next cycle of funding (2021 onwards).
The research project was conducted in two phases.
First, we used desk-based analyses of publicly-available documents to review and map out key actors engaged in the selected areas of research and knowledge exchange. This was analysed against Scottish Government food, environment and agriculture research strategies articulated since 2005. We paid particular attention to the governance arrangements in place to guide research and knowledge exchange activities in successive programmes and to key operational responses elicited by those arrangements. The results of these analyses are presented in Section 2.
Second, we conducted semi-structured interviews to ask: how Scottish Government, MRPs, CoEs and SEFARI / SEFARI Gateway interact within the Strategic Research Portfolio; and how they perceive the current and future utility of the SEFARI identity in the context of those interactions.
Interviews were conducted in the following groups: (i) representatives of Scottish Government RESAS and related policy teams; (ii) directors, deputy directors (or equivalent) and scientific staff of MRPs; (iii) directors and deputy directors (or equivalent) of CoEs; and (iv) current and former staff of SEFARI Gateway. Interview questions posed to each of these groups are provided in Appendix 2. Key findings from 26 recorded and transcribed interviews are presented in Section 3.
1.4 Structure of Report
Section 2 maps out the key actors and activities of RESAS-funded research, and analyses the historical background of the RESAS-funded research landscape. Key findings from the interviews are presented in Section 3. Observations from Sections 2 and 3 are discussed in Section 4, and Section 5 presents the conclusions and recommendations