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RA5a: Structure,environment and staffing policy

This submission is based on the work of the University’s Policy Studies Institute (PSI). PSI became a wholly owned subsidiary of the University of Westminster in January 1998 having operated as an independent research institute since its formation in 1978. This submission refers to the work of those working for PSI when it entered the University sector in 1998 and those employed at a later date.

PSI conducts research relating to economic and social well-being and quality of life so as to contribute to policy development and bring wider public benefits. To achieve this, PSI: carries out high quality research projects; provides data and analysis in support of policy-making; promotes the discussion and exchange of relevant information and research findings; organises conferences and workshops; and publishes its own research and research on behalf of external bodies. Although PSI’s core values and methods of operation are unchanged, the process of becoming part of the University of Westminster has been associated with some significant developments:

· the portfolio of research has become more focused while the overall level of activity initially declined before entering a period of steady re-expansion.
· PSI has begun to integrate into the wider research networks of the University of Westminster and to establish collaborative links with research groups with related interests.
· PSI is reinforcing its existing strengths in applied research and methodological innovation by developing more rigorous links between theory and practice. More of PSI’s published output will appear in the peer-reviewed academic literature. However, we will continue to use swifter and widely-read dissemination routes which contribute to public policy and foster wider debate in a timely manner.

Group Structure and Relationship to UoAs

Research activity is conducted in groups of people sharing common research interests. The group structure provides a policy focus for research activity, a disciplined basis for training and a mechanism for communicating findings from related work. It facilitates the management of linked projects. In practice, cross-group working is common and individual researchers may work on projects managed by different groups.

There are currently three main groups: the Social Security Research Group; the Employment Group and the Environment and Sustainable Development Group. An individual researcher (Allen) works on Social Care and Health Policy. The submission under UoA 40/41 covers the Social Security Research Group; work on Social Care and Health Policy; and members of the Employment Group concerned with disadvantage in the labour market.

Members of the Employment Group who work on Training; Organisation, Management Development and Strategic Management; and Labour Market Policy and Organisation, have been submitted under UoA43 (Business Studies), reflecting joint working with the University's Business School. Work on Environment and Sustainable Development has been submitted under UoA 39 (Politics and International Relations) reflecting links with the University’s Centre for the Study of Democracy. PSI continues to publish the journal Cultural Trends edited by Sara Selwood, a member of the University’s School of Communication and Creative Industries (CCI). This work is reported under UoA 65 (Communication, Cultural and Media Studies).

Although PSI’s work is attributed to three UoAs, there are strong linkages between the groups. Health concerns are central to the work on Social Care and Health Policy but also crop up in work on employment, social policy, and the environment. The Employment and Social Security Research Groups both undertake state-of-the-art quantitative evaluation of social policies, notably those affecting people on the margins of work.

Groups contributing to UoA 40/41

Social Security Research (Marsh, McKay, Smith). PSI’s Social Security Research Team has received core funding from the Department of Social Security (DSS) since 1990, building on a long history of welfare research. The current contract was renewed in April 1999 until June 2002 when new submissions will be invited. Through appropriate recruitment and training policies, the Team develops a cadre of researchers with skills to carry out social security research and policy evaluation. The Group attracts additional support through individual government contracts, from research councils and from charitable foundations. Total research income in 1999/00 was £359k including £340k from the DSS.

The team conducts a continuing programme of large-scale surveys of low-income households that provide a basis for publication, policy support and public debate. There are four main research strands:

· The living standards of people on low incomes and its effects on their well-being, particularly families with children. This has long been the key focus of social security policy in Britain, and provides the impetus for the other main research themes.
· The effect of social security on incentives to work, including the take-up of benefits, is an important part of Welfare to Work policy. The research has given qualified encouragement to the development of wage supplementation as part of the in-work income package enabling low-skilled people to enter the labour market more easily.
· The effects of the design of the social security system on family formation and the changing patterns of human relationships.
· The study of active case management, the second pillar of Welfare to Work policy, including participation in the £4.7m project to evaluate the ONE experiment, uniting the job-search and benefit delivery systems.

Throughout the 1990s, the Group has surveyed Britain’s low-income families with dependent children under the Programme of Research into Low-Income Families (PRILIF). This first comprehensive study of the way in which families with children experience the benefit system and how it impacts on their incentives to get and keep paid work has been a major achievement. The work includes a ten-year longitudinal study of 900 lone parents, which continues with studies of their children. In 1999, the DSS funded the Team to establish a new baseline survey of a ‘true panel’ of 5000 British families which will continue in the same way. The Group’s research is providing a substantial base of evidence for policy. Current high-profile evaluations include: Earnings Top-up; Jobseeker's Allowance; and Leaving Incapacity Benefit.

Social Exclusion and Disadvantage in the Labour Market (Lakey, Barnes, Zarb). There are two strands to this research: a) work on disability; and b) work on various forms of disadvantage in relation to the labour market.

PSI’s disability research has identified barriers to disabled people’s inclusion in social and economic life. A major Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) project, Measuring Disablement, tested the social model of disability by developing methodological tools referring to three key areas: physical environments; social and political environments; and economic environments. Other research has evaluated services for disabled people aimed at promoting independent living. This work has been carried out in partnership with disability organisations and/or health and social services with support from the Department of Health, the NHS Executive, the National Centre for Independent Living and various city councils. The leading disability researcher (Zarb) has suffered health problems in the last three years. This reduced the funding flow in 1999/00 to £16k.

Researchers within PSI’s Employment Group (Lakey, Barnes) have recently begun to work on disadvantage in the labour market. A JRF project is examining the experiences of unemployed people with multiple disadvantages (e.g. problems with literacy and numeracy, physical and mental health, homelessness). This work takes advantage of data collected to evaluate New Deal programmes but also involves interviews with organisations providing support services and with young people themselves. This work supports a broader goal to reinforce PSI’s competencies in qualitative research. Funding reached £42k in the first half of 2000/01.

Social Care and Health Policy (Allen). This stream of work is led by Allen in association with various external collaborators including academics and practitioner organisations. External funding ran to £178k in 1999/00. There are three major strands: Fertility and Family Planning; the Medical Profession; and Social Care.

In 1997, we evaluated midwifery group practices set up under the Government’s Changing Childbirth initiative. The project Teenage Mothers: Housing and Household Change, undertaken as part of the ESRC’s Population and Household Change Programme, looked at the ways in which young mothers make decisions about their housing circumstances and social support during their pregnancies and after the birth of their babies. This resulted in a PSI book which attracted much media interest and was extensively cited in the Social Exclusion Unit report on teenage pregnancy.

In collaboration with Thames Postgraduate Medical and Dental Education, we conducted research on Stress among Hospital Consultants which was followed up with a study of stress among ward sisters and charge nurses. We researched the Experience of Pre-registration House Officers and also published a study examining the views of young doctors on the core values of the medical profession. PSI conducted a rigorous examination of all aspects of the General Medical Council’s conduct procedures, following up our previous research investigating whether there was any evidence of racial discrimination in their handling of complaints against doctors. The GMC has pledged to implement all of the report’s recommendations.

In the Social Care area, we conducted a three-year project managing, monitoring and evaluating the Government’s Caring for People who Live at Home initiative. This concluded in 1997 with a major national conference and publication. We published The Future of Family Care for Older People and also undertook a consultation exercise for the NHS Executive on the health of older people. Members of the Association of Directors of Social Services (ADSS) and PSI staff are brought together under the umbrella of the ADSS/PSI Group (see RA6).

Research Culture

PSI research staff are employed specifically on the basis of their research skills. Undertaking and disseminating the findings of high quality research is central to the ethos of PSI. Since PSI’s research is externally funded, staff are exposed to the need to conduct high quality research which meets the needs of external audiences and is disseminated clearly. Staff are actively encouraged to contribute to external conferences, workshops and seminars with both practitioners and other academics.

A particular feature of PSI’s research is its participation in all stages of social research, from defining the original research aims through to survey design, piloting, data analysis and write-up/dissemination. Survey work is mainly contracted out to other organisations. The capacity to link survey design to ultimate aims and data analysis provides the opportunity to conduct social research of the highest quality.

PSI’s research culture increasingly takes account of the need to expose its work to academic peer review as well as disseminating to policymakers and practitioners. To support this aim, the Quintin Hogg Trust Fund has provided resources (£75k pa over the last two years) to translate completed research into papers targeted at key journals and prestigious academic conferences. PSI aims to take an increasing role in postgraduate research and education through the supervision of postgraduate students registered at the University. PSI staff have examined theses for the School of Social and Behavioural Sciences and have participated in research seminars at various parts of the University such as the Business School, the School of the Built Environment and the Centre for the Study of Democracy.

Research Infrastructure

PSI’s research infrastructure includes: a small specialist research library and information service; networked PCs available to all staff capable of running statistical and qualitative data analysis packages; and two networked high capacity SUN computers capable of more demanding statistical tasks involving large datasets.

These facilities are supported by a full-time IT officer and a part-time librarian shared with the University's Centre for the Study of Democracy. The library is linked to the University's Information Systems and Library Services (ISLS) allowing access to inter-library loans etc. The library acts as a gateway for electronic information (on-line journals, identification of funding opportunities) and document acquisition. It stocks key journals relevant to PSI’s research interests.

PSI projects have produced key survey-based primary datasets including: the survey of low-income families (SOLIF); surveys of ethnic minorities in the UK; and the workplace industrial relations survey (WIRS) series. These are available for secondary analysis and provide major research opportunities. One of our research staff (Mackinnon) acts as a data resources manager whose task it is to maintain these datasets and provide specialised statistical support to internal and external users.

Interdisciplinarity and Collaboration

PSI’s research is issue-based and interdisciplinary by nature. Staff have a wide range of disciplinary backgrounds, including economics, applied economics, econometrics, political science, social sciences, psychology, sociology, mathematics and history. Staff from different disciplines often work together on specific projects and acquire new skills through formal training or ‘on the job’ experience.

Collaboration is central to PSI’s work. We have now established substantive links with the rest of the University including a joint project on Entry into the Legal Professions (Law School) and one on Ethnic Minority Economic Performance (Westminster Business School). There are wider links with UK academic groups such as the Social Sciences Research Centre at South Bank University, the Centre for Research in Social Policy at the University of Loughborough, the Centre for the Analysis of Social Policy at the University of Bath, the Health and Community Care Research Unit at the University of Liverpool, the Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion at LSE and the Royal Society of Medicine.

Collaboration with leading international academics such as Professor Jeffrey Smith of the University of Western Ontario and Jim Riccio of the Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation (MDRC), New York, has helped PSI to acquire leading edge competence in the quantitative evaluation of social programmes using, for example, random assignment and matched comparisons. These collaborators are attracted to PSI because of the opportunity to apply state-of-the-art quantitative techniques to datasets from surveys designed with the final analysis in mind.

Relations with other sectors

PSI works closely with government departments, other public bodies and the voluntary sector. There are especially strong links with the Analytical Services Division of the DSS through the core funding agreement. PSI staff have worked with, or have been invited to brief, a variety of other public bodies, including the DfEE, DETR, the Department of Health, The Scottish Executive, the Treasury, Inland Revenue and the NHS Executive. Senior staff regularly brief Government ministers. Other public bodies for which research has been conducted, or briefings have been given, include the BBC, the General Medical Council, Leverhulme, Nuffield and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

PSI’s work on disability and social care and health studies has led to excellent links with local authorities and voluntary organisations. The need to conduct quantitative surveys has brought PSI into close contact with survey organisations such as BMRB, MORI and NOP and with the National Centre for Social Research. There is an active evaluation partnership with the Office of National Statistics.

Dissemination of Research

The applied nature of PSI’s work and the project-based nature of operations means that a significant proportion of PSI’s output has taken the form of books and/or published reports. PSI has its own publications department and most books have been published under PSI’s own imprint. Reports appear in Government series such as the DSS Social Security Research Reports. PSI publishes two journals, Policy Studies and Cultural Trends. The coverage of the latter refers to UoA 65 as described above. PSI also publishes a series on behalf of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation covering issues such as ethnic equality, employment, social care, personal finance and disability.

PSI publications already reach a wide range of audiences. However, we are currently diversifying our dissemination routes. The PSI Web site contains a comprehensive listing of PSI books and descriptions of research activity. In 2000, a new series of peer-reviewed Research Discussion papers was initiated with hard copies supplemented by electronic distribution via the Web site. We are focusing attention on publication through traditional academic routes, particularly journal articles.

PSI’s Conference Centre provides an opportunity to organise high profile public events, including lunchtime seminars, which help to disseminate research findings. Events in 2000 included a seminar on Welfare to Work addressed by the Secretary of State for Education and Employment.


PSI research staff are appointed on indefinite contracts on one of four research scales related to the Research and Analogous scales in pre-1992 universities. Grade N1 is the ‘research officer’ scale and N2 the ‘research fellow’ scale. Senior research fellows on N3 should have developed self-sufficiency in terms of devising, funding and managing research projects. Principal research fellows (N4) take over responsibility for programmes or clusters of related projects. The raising of external funds is a performance requirement for staff on N3 and N4. Senior staff who make specific and exceptional contributions to Institute activity may be appointed to a higher scale currently under re-negotiation to align it with professorial appointments. These arrangements provide a career structure within PSI and are a major factor in attracting and retaining high-calibre staff. Although contracts are indefinite, employment is subject to the availability of funding. Individuals are set a target of committing about 75% of their working time to funded research projects. This arrangement leaves space for publication, dissemination and fund-raising/project development.

New staff are allocated to one of the research groups. Team working is the general rule and newcomers work alongside more experienced colleagues. All groups have regular meetings at which current projects are presented and evaluated. There is a general staff meeting every second month as well as more focused working group meetings (e.g. publications, IT support, library users’ group).

PSI has an annual appraisal system which was re-negotiated and considerably simplified in 1999-2000. Its purpose is to identify the particular skills and potential for personal and career development of staff members. An annual performance review is used to identify cases for promotion. Training needs are identified through appraisal and on a more iterative basis through group meetings. The Deputy Director, Alan Marsh, has a designated responsibility for training issues and for administering the £5k pa training budget. A formal goal of the previously mentioned DSS core funding contract is to contribute to the training of a new cadre of social policy researchers.

PSI has made 13 new research appointments, at all levels, since January 1998. Five of the seven research active people listed in this submission have been appointed since then. The main criteria have been knowledge and understanding of a particular policy area and proven research skills. For more senior appointments, research management ability was also a criterion. One new appointment (A*) has been made since April 2000. Barnes was recruited to expand the quantitative research skill base and to expand our expertise at the boundary between social and employment policy, e.g. in relation to topics such as disablement and disadvantage in the labour market.


Output profile. PSI’s written output comprises a mixture of books, monographs, book chapters, published reports based on contracted research and journal articles. The books and published reports are subject to rigorous review and receive the same quality control as our more academic output. The publications listed in RA2 reflect this range of output.
Funding profile. In the financial year 1999/00, PSI’s overall research income was £1,700k, excluding the cost of external surveys. Income associated with activities covered by this UoA was £560k. Of this, 68% came from government departments and agencies and 32% from foundations and other public bodies. All of this funding has been achieved through competition, sometimes with academics and sometimes with a wider range of organisations.


PSI’s position as a formerly independent research institute now located within the University sector poses distinct challenges. The key issue is how to remain true to PSI’s original purpose (contributions to policy-making and public debate) while making greater contributions to high-quality academic journals. The strategy over the next three-five years has the following elements:

Expansion of research activity. We will raise the overall volume of research activity working towards around 30 research staff spread across three different UoAs. We need to work towards a balanced distribution of research staff across the grades by recruitment at appropriate levels. This will require a greater degree of recruitment on grades N1 and N2 and will help us to play a part in training new generations of social researchers.
Diversifying styles of research and sources of funding. Work on the evaluation of social policy interventions is central to PSI but it can tie up researchers for long periods of time, reducing opportunities to publish and potentially holding back career development. We intend to supplement this type of work with shorter-term projects supported by foundations, research councils and the EU framework programmes. The end of the current phase of DSS Core Funding in mid-2002 provides the opportunity to re-assess our social policy research. We will build up our capacity to use qualitative research methods to complement our quantitative skills. Our current activities can be used as a platform for posing broader policy-relevant questions and making better use of existing datasets.
Consolidation and development of research themes. Within this UoA, we envisage the expansion of work on social security, addressing issues such as pension provision and life-time earnings. This line would be developed by McKay who has already carried out work in this area. We will review our work on social care and health policy as Allen will be retiring shortly. She will continue to work through PSI and we are giving serious consideration to a new strategic appointment. PSI has a strong reputation for work on ethnic minorities and we are currently considering how this might be taken forward. Both Marsh and Lakey have an interest in this field. The Environment Group will be co-ordinating a sustainable development network for the DETR over the next three years offering an opportunity to consolidate work on health, quality of life and disadvantaged groups.
Embedding in the University sector. We will consolidate our position within the University of Westminster through research collaboration and taking up a role in postgraduate education. We already have joint projects with the Business School, the Centre for the Study of Democracy and the School of the Built Environment. We will deepen these links as our first priority. We have started to become involved in the supervision of PhD students in association with other parts of the University, extending our research reach and contributing to the recruitment of high quality PhD candidates.


Our strengths are: a reputation for high-quality policy-relevant research; the capacity to carry out work to internationally recognised standards in the evaluation of social policies; a grasp of the entire research process from design through to data analysis; a committed staff who strive towards policy-relevant applied research and high academic standards; personnel policies which permit career development and attract high quality staff; and a proven capacity to raise external research funds from a variety of sources.

There are also weaknesses, partly related to the relatively small number of staff in post in 1998 when PSI entered the University sector. Participation in some long evaluation projects has limited our opportunities for publishing in the short-term. Our public profile is lower than it might be, partly as a result of the funding pattern. There is insufficient involvement in postgraduate education for a research institute located in the University sector. PSI is still working through its transition to the University sector. The research strategy for the next three-five years will address the issues raised.

Users of this website should note that the information is not intended to be a complete record of all research centres in the UK

Copyright 2002 - HEFCE, SHEFC, ELWa, DEL

Last updated 17 October 2003

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