ASPECT Social Science Innovation Fellowships

Aspect Social Science Innovation Fellowship Programme

*This programme is currently closed to new applications. Please check back soon.*

Are you a social scientist, or a small team of social scientists, who are passionate about innovation and want to encourage others to get involved?

Would you like an opportunity to lead a programme of activity to create culture change in your department and across the social sciences?

Could you be our next ambassador for social science innovation, advocating for business engagement, commercialisation and entrepreneurship for the social sciences both within the University and externally?

We are looking to invest funding in up to four creative and enthusiastic Fellows (or small teams) to be advocates for innovation and help drive an inclusive, supportive culture of innovation among social sciences researchers at the University of Oxford. The Innovation Fellowships will run until 31 March 2023. 

In the current research funding climate, innovation is becoming an increasingly important component of research activity. By funding a cohort of Fellows whose main objectives are to a) advocate for innovation, and b) provide us with academic input and leadership for new initiatives, we hope to create a step-change in innovation activities in the social sciences, making it easier for researchers to engage in innovation and to make it a more valued part of research. The aim of the Innovation Fellowship Programme is to support academic-led culture change. This is a great opportunity for someone to get involved at this stage of our journey, especially those keen to develop leadership, change management and advocacy skills. 

Proposals are therefore sought from researchers to lead, support, and facilitate culture change within their departments; with the aspiration that innovation becomes an increasingly valued and recognised activity for social sciences researchers. Fellows will be expected to organise and/or lead a programme of activities and act as ambassadors and advocates for innovation within the University and externally. This is a flexible opportunity and we welcome creative approaches.

The new Fellows will join our two previous Oxford Innovation Fellows and will work closely with those identified by some of our Aspect partner universities (Glasgow, Edinburgh, Cardiff, and Sussex) to form a cohort of Innovation Fellows. They will lead the development of a network of those interested in sharing good practice, and ideas around innovation across the Social Sciences Division. Administrative support will be provided by the division’s Innovation Network and Events Co-ordinator. 

Responsibilities of Innovation Fellows
•    Advocate for innovation, research commercialisation, business engagement and/ or entrepreneurship at the department and divisional level, soliciting views and opinions from the wider research community. This may also mean acting as a spokesperson at divisional groups and committees.
•    Help drive an inclusive, supportive culture of innovation in your department the Division and the wider University.
•    Provide academic input and leadership into thinking around innovation and new initiatives. 
•    Liaise and network with others with an interest in innovation in departments, other divisions and beyond the University.
•    Run a programme of events/ activities, including workshops, training, seminars.
•    Work with the divisional Research, Impact and Engagement team to develop materials explaining the value proposition around social sciences for businesses.
•    Attend Aspect academic cohort meetings (c. every 6-8 weeks) and events (approx. 5 over the course of the year)
•    Meet regularly with the cohort from across the partner HEIs for specific sessions, which may include: professional development, the 'Research Venturers Model, and evaluation, including potentially contributing to the Aspect annual event, and producing materials for the Aspect partnership (e.g. podcasts, vlogs, etc).

Guidance and how to apply

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We encourage applications either from individuals, or from small teams where a named Fellow works closely with a Research Assistant and /or other specific colleagues to plan and deliver their programme of activities. The named Fellow must be a current employee of the University (a Fixed Term Researcher or a permanent member of academic staff), and have the support of their academic department. Fixed Term Researchers applying to be a Fellow must have a contract with a department that runs for the duration of the Innovation Fellowships Programme. Social scientists from any department and division are welcome to apply. Students are not eligible.

Innovation Fellows may apply for up to £12.5k. This can be used to fund salary or buy-out, depending on contractual circumstances. It can also be used for direct costs, including RA time, related to impact or engagement activities. You will be required to provide an X5 costing and short justification of your spend within your application. Funds must be spent by 31 March 2023. At the end of the period Fellows will be required to report briefly on how the award money has been used.

Fellows will also have access to an additional events budget to help them run their choice of events and training to support the development of our innovation ecosystem.  

This programme is funded as part of the Aspect network - a joint programme to transform society through Social Science innovation - consisting of a partnership between over twenty universities, led by LSE, University of Sheffield, University of Manchester, Sussex University, Glasgow University and the University of Oxford. As such, Fellows will also be expected to attend some ASPECT events.

  • Experience of innovation through research commercialisation, business engagement or entrepreneurship, including through innovative impact and engagement work
  • Ability to advocate effectively for the benefits of innovation across a wide range of stakeholders (ECRs, Heads of Department, etc.)
  • Willingness to be proactive in identifying ways to improve communication around innovation with research staff/postdocs, as well as Heads of Department and senior colleagues.
  • Ability to develop a programme of events that will stimulate more engagement with innovative activities across Social Sciences at the University of Oxford

The time commitment will depend on your planned activities and approach to delivering the objectives of the Fellowship, as outlined in your application. The minimum time commitment is five full working days spread out over the period. 

This call closed on Tuesday 3rd May 2022 at 12:00 noon. 

Please submit your application via IRAMS.

Submissions should include ALL the following components, to be submitted as a combined PDF through IRAMS:

your CV (maximum 1 page)
a brief outline of your proposed programme of activities, and a short statement of why you are interested in applying for this role and the particular strengths and experience that you will bring to it (maximum 2 pages)
a short statement from your Head of Department supporting your application 
an X5 costing for your proposed budget

If you have any queries, please contact



Examples of strategic innovation activity
The range of possible strategic activities that can better support innovation culture change is varied and may include one or more of the following activities: 

  • Showcase event - Run a showcase event of examples of innovation in Social Sciences to raise awareness among researchers
  • Build a community – create a network to support researchers looking to do innovation
  • Hackathons - Develop a hackathon series to explore novel applications for research
  • Skills for innovation - Run digital skills workshop to help researchers develop tools to aid with innovative research in data science or coding
  • Develop partnerships - Explore a partnership with government or business to pilot research ideas
  • Pump-prime your own innovation (if appropriate). Important note: Innovation Fellowships are not intended as a mechanism to support Fellows in the creation of individual spin-outs, etc. Enquiries about commercialisation projects should be sent to Oxford University Innovation

This list is not exhaustive and applicants are encouraged to try out new ideas for fostering a culture in which innovation can flourish. We are keen to hear from you about your ideas and to discuss what is possible under this scheme. Please contact


Events and workshops

Innovation for Social Sciences: Exploring meaningful definitions of innovation for social scientists

A panel discussion led by our Associate Head of Division (Research) Professor Heather Viles, January 2022.

Meet our current Innovation Fellows

Professor Laura Rival

Professor Laura Rival smiles as she stands at the front of classroom, teaching a class of young adults. The classroom walls are bright green, the students and teacher are wearing clothes for hot weather, and out of the window a lush rainforest is visible.

'Oxford's Department of International Development comprises a thriving community, which is known worldwide for its ground-breaking work on technological innovation for human development.'

'My Fellowship will directly contribute to this work through a programme of events geared to help reframe entrepreneurship and successful commercialization from plural perspectives; to deepen our collective reflection on how we should address the burning issues of development in the face of the climate and ecological crises; and to map out and rally ODID’s extensive network of business partners.'

Laura Rival, Social Science Innovation Fellow and Professor of Anthropology and Development based at the Oxford Department of International Development and at the School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography

Patrick Thomson 

Portrait of Patrick Thomson

'My main aims for this Fellowship are to develop an innovation network within the Social Sciences Division for the exchange of ideas and experience with other like-minded people, and to link that into the existing innovation ecosystem, with a particular focus on the social entrepreneurship through the Skoll Centre and Oxford University Innovation.

'I believe that social scientists’ understanding of the cultural factors, institutional structures, and power relationships that shape our world can be the special sauce that enables a creative or inventive idea to mature into a real innovation working in the real world.'

Patrick Thomson, Socal Science Innovation Fellow and Senior Researcher, Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment


aspect logo with tag line "transforming society through social science innovation"