Working in partnership with the UK’s security and intelligence agencies, the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) has commissioned the launch of a new centre dedicated to the development and use of economic and social science research to understand, mitigate and counter security threats.
Based at Lancaster University, the Centre for Research and Evidence on Security Threats (CREST) brings together world-leading researchers at the universities of Birmingham, Cranfield, Lancaster, Portsmouth and the West of England to deliver a national hub focused around independent research, training and knowledge synthesis.
The founding partners will oversee programmes of activity that attract the best social scientists from the UK and abroad to partner with industry and Government in a bid to “break new ground” in our understanding of – and overall capacity to counter – contemporary threats.
The project was commissioned by the ESRC with a focus on maximising the impact of existing research to inform approaches to countering contemporary security threats to individuals, communities and institutions alike.
CREST is funded over three years with £4.35 million from the UK security and intelligence agencies and a further £2.2 million invested by the founding institutions.
Paul Taylor from Lancaster University (the director of CREST) explained: “Bringing together the UK’s top economic, behavioural and social scientists with partners in industry and Government will provide unprecedented opportunities to develop our understanding of security threats and how best to mitigate them. Today’s threats are nothing if not both challenging and diverse. The ambitious and innovative activities of CREST over the coming years will meet these challenges.”
Leaders of the future
As well as conducting world class, independent research, the Centre will stimulate public and professional debate, connect disciplinary communities, inform security policy and practice and provide training to research leaders of the future.
Cranfield University will lead research on protective security and risk assessment. Dr Debi Ashenden, head of the Centre for Cyber Security and Information Systems at Cranfield, told Risk UK: “By focusing on these areas, we will look to improve our understanding of the security risks we face and how we make decisions about mitigating those risks. It’s very exciting to be working with such a unique mix of behavioural and social scientists on such a broad spectrum of security challenges.”
For its part, the University of Portsmouth will lead research on eliciting information, examining how best to promote accurate and complete recall. “We have a successful track history of innovative and high impact research in this area,” said Professor Lorraine Hope from the University’s Department of Psychology. “This is an excellent opportunity to develop and apply effective science-based interviewing techniques for use in security contexts.”
The call for the hub was developed in partnership between the UK security and intelligence services and the ESRC. While ESRC is not supporting the hub financially, the Council has been leading on the commissioning of the hub and will be managing it such as other ESRC investments are managed.
The project will initially fund 13 PhD students working across all five universities.
Social and economic questions
The ESRC is the UK’s largest funder of research on the social and economic questions facing us today. It supports the development and training of the UK’s future social scientists and also funds major studies that provide the infrastructure for research. ESRC-funded research informs policymakers and practitioners and helps make businesses, voluntary bodies and other organisations more effective.
Lancaster University is ranked among the Top 10 universities in the UK and 121 in the world, and is top for employability and student satisfaction in its region. 83% of Lancaster’s research is judged to be internationally excellent and world-leading. The university has a strong focus on working with business and, across the years, has helped create more than 5,000 new jobs.