Skip to content

Social science parks: society's new super labs

This publication introduces SPARKs: purpose-built facilities co-locating social scientists with other disciplines and collaborators from private, public and third sectors.

This publication introduces SPARKs: purpose-built facilities co-locating social scientists with other disciplines and collaborators from private, public and third sectors.

Key findings

  • The social science research park (SPARK) is a practical innovation in facilitating interdisciplinary social science research and its application.
  • The existing evidence of successfully delivering such interdisciplinarity is weak, particularly when it comes to social science-led research.
  • SPARKs are purpose-built facilities housing applied social science research groups alongside researchers from other disciplines, external research stakeholders and collaborators from the private, public and third sectors which create the facilities and physical spaces that encourage creative interaction and promote the adoption of collaborative approaches to research.

The SPARK is a practical innovation facilitating interdisciplinary social science research and its application. SPARKs have the potential to provide new insights into practical problems and policy issues, and to lay the foundations for discovery leading to economic, public and social innovation. So far the most advanced development of a SPARK is at Cardiff University, which is building a new facility that will house a social science park alongside an innovation centre. Developments at Cardiff University and elsewhere are promising, but it remains to be seen whether this potentially powerful institutional mechanism for addressing the problems and possibilities of our time will be widely adopted.

Policy recommendations

  • For SPARKs to facilitate interdisciplinary, challenge-led research, investment is required in strategic management of the funding system in order to broker collaborations, facilitate engagement with users, develop meaningful metrics, and disseminate outcomes.
  • Science policy makers must ensure the appropriate infrastructure and funding is in place.

Authors

Adam Price, Rick Delbridge

Authors

Rick Delbridge

Rick Delbridge is Cardiff University’s Dean of Research, Innovation & Enterprise and the academic lead for its development of SPARK (Social Science Research Park).

Adam Price

Adam Price

Adam Price

Senior Programme Manager

Adam Price was a Senior Programme Manager in the Innovation Lab, working on public service innovation and innovation spaces.    His report, co-authored with Matthew Gatehouse, State ...

View profile