Photograph of James Wilsdon

Professor James Wilsdon FAcSS

Professor of Research Policy, Department of Politics

Contact Details
Telephone: +44 (0)771 076 0086
Room: 3rd Floor, ICOSS, 219 Portobello Sheffield S1 4DP


I am an interdisciplinary social scientist who works on the politics and governance of science and research, and the relationship between evidence, experts and decision-making. Over my career, in addition to academic posts at the universities of Sheffield, Sussex and Lancaster, I’ve worked in public policy, think tanks and at the UK’s national academy of science.

Since 2016, I’ve been based in the University of Sheffield’s Department of Politics as professor of research policy, combined with a strategic leadership role in the Faculty of Social Sciences. I’m also an associate director of the Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures and a member of the university’s Centre for the Study of Higher Education.

Beyond Sheffield, I am vice-chair of the International Network for Government Science Advice (INGSA), which was set up in 2014 to share good practice and build capacity for evidence-informed decision making, and now has over 4000 members from 80+ countries.

In 2015, I was elected a fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences, and I now chair its Policy Working Group. I am also a founding member of the Forum for Responsible Research Metrics; a member of the advisory board of Scientists for EU; a member of the British Academy’s Higher Education Policy Development Group; a member of the Sciencewise advisory group; a member of the Civil Service Policy Profession’s Academic Engagement steering group; and a panel member for the current independent review of Scotland’s research pooling initiative.

From 2013 to 2017, I chaired the UK’s Campaign for Social Science, and led an independent government review of the role of metrics in the management of the research system, published in 2015 as The Metric Tide. I subsequently chaired an expert panel on Next Generation Metrics for the European Commission. I also directed the ESRC’s Nexus Network, a £1.7m initiative to link research and policy on food, energy and water.
Previously, I worked as professor of science and democracy in the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU), University of Sussex (2011-15); director of science policy at the Royal Society, the UK’s national academy of science (2008-11); head of science and innovation at the think tank Demos (2001-08); senior research fellow at Lancaster University's Institute for Advanced Studies (2006-08); senior policy adviser at Forum for the Future (1997-01); and special adviser to the UK Sustainable Development Commission (2000-01).
I also contribute regularly to the media, and co-edit the Political Science blog on science policy, hosted by the Guardian from 2013-2018 and now at *Research. I’m on the editorial advisory panel of the open access journal Palgrave Communications.


My research interests include:

  • Science and research policy in the UK, EU and internationally;
  • Research on research – particularly responsible metrics, evaluation and assessment;
  • Evidence in decision-making and the politics and practice of scientific advice;
  • Public engagement, equality, diversity and inclusion in research cultures.

I'm a strong supporter of open access, and aim whenever possible to publish my own work in OA formats. I’m also on the editorial advisory panel of Palgrave Communications, a leading interdisciplinary open access journal for the social sciences.

Key projects

Currently, I am working on five projects:

1. Research on research
Policymakers, funders and universities worldwide are grappling with how to manage and support more dynamic, diverse and effective research systems. There is a need for more rigorous analysis of how these systems are performing, and a willingness to test new approaches and learn from elsewhere. Research on research (or “meta-research”) is, in the words of one recent overview, “a hot but fragmented scientific discipline.” I’m part of a fast-growing network of researchers working to develop theoretical frameworks, standardize methods, and provide real-time intelligence on the changing dynamics of disciplines, impacts, diversity and concentration within research. My recent report with Richard Jones - The Biomedical Bubble - is one example of this kind of work. Building on my independent review of metrics in research, published in 2015 as The Metric Tide, and my report for the European Commission on Next Generation Metrics, I am also working to develop frameworks and policies for responsible metrics in the UK, EU and internationally.

2. International Network for Government Science Advice (INGSA)
INGSA was set up in 2014, to provide a forum for policymakers, practitioners and researchers to share experiences, build capacities, and develop new approaches to the use of scientific evidence in informing policy at all levels of government. INGSA’s secretariat is based at the University of Auckland in New Zealand. At Sheffield, I coordinate INGSA’s knowledge hub, which undertakes comparative research, case studies and other activities to support the INGSA network as it grows. Currently we are working with UNESCO on an Atlas of Scientific Advice and Evidence-Informed Policymaking, to be released in autumn 2020.

3. S4D4C – Using Science In/For Diplomacy For Addressing Global Challenges
This 3-year, €2m EC/Horizon 2020-funded project is exploring the changing role of scientific evidence and advice in European diplomacy, in addressing shared global priorities such as climate change, global health and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Led by the Centre for Social Innovation (ZSI) in Vienna, the University of Sheffield is one of ten partners from across Europe which together form the S4D4C consortium.

4. The Real-Time REF Review
It is now over 30 years since the UK first introduced a national research assessment exercise, but frameworks and methodologies of assessment continue to evolve. Following the 2016 Stern Review, and further rounds of technical consultation, the UK research community is now gearing up for the next Research Excellence Framework – REF 2021.
Working in partnership with Research England, a team of researchers from the universities of Cardiff and Sheffield initiated this pilot study to evaluate perceptions and experiences of REF 2021 in real-time, among researchers at all career stages, and across a diverse range of disciplines and universities. We hoped to better understand the changing effects of the REF on research cultures, institutions, and individuals – and particularly whether the changes prompted by the Stern Review are succeeding or failing in their goal of reducing burdens on researchers and institutions. The study will be published in early 2019.

5. ASPECT - A social sciences platform for entrepreneurship, commercialisation and transformation
I am the University of Sheffield lead in a new £5m consortium, set up to promote business engagement and entrepreneurship from social science research. Supported by Research England’s Connecting Capability Fund and led by the LSE, ASPECT is a novel collaboration between leading universities and businesses to develop the commercial potential of social sciences. It aims to bring together the best social science ideas with leading businesses and entrepreneurs to create new products and businesses which can solve pressing social challenges and improve productivity, key aims of the UK’s Industrial Strategy.


I am one of the module leaders of the MA module on Analysing the Policy Process, which examines different stages of the policy process, and explores a range of theoretical and practical approaches to contemporary policymaking.

PhD Supervision

I would be pleased to hear from prospective PhD students, particularly those looking to work on: the politics of scientific advice; evidence and expertise in policymaking; research on research; or the role of metrics in research management and governance.

Currently, I am co-supervising two Grantham Scholar PhD students: Kaisa Pietila and George Asiamah.


Click here for a full list of publications

Key publications include:

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