New report: Commercialisation in the social sciences

Building on extensive research with social scientists across the University of Cambridge, a new study by Tomas Ulrichsen and Dr Nicky Athanassopoulou outlines the key barriers, enablers and pathways to success for social science research commercialisation.


The report presents a prototype tool created to assist researchers or University Technology Transfer Offices in evaluating the readiness level and progress of their commercialisation projects, along with recommendations for universities to improve their support and encouragement for commercialisation.


Social science research can struggle to deliver sustained impacts at scale. However, this is not due to a lack of potential, but rather to various barriers that hinder researchers from disseminating their work to a wider audience. As a result, academics, universities and funders are increasingly interested in whether commercialisation tools and approaches can be leveraged to help social scientists realise significant impact from their research.


"We see a growing interest in how to better leverage commercial routes and the market mechanism to enable social science research to drive economic, societal, and environmental impacts at scale," says Tomas. "While many universities have accumulated decades of experience in supporting the commercialisation of research from biomedical, scientific and engineering disciplines, their efforts to more formally and systematically support social science research commercialisation are relatively recent."


Focusing on commercialisation in the social sciences, the report builds on work with social scientists across the University’s many departments. From this work, the report identifies 142 cases relating to 127 unique knowledge assets in five overarching categories:

  • Knowledge and understanding;
  • Software, algorithms and AI-based technologies;
  • Data provision and access and/or collection and analysis;
  • Product designs and hardware;
  • Social/professional networks and connectivity.


"It is important to increase the impact of the research carried out by social scientists at the University, and commercialisation is one of the best routes forward. It has a much more direct and potentially tangible impact which other routes like publications may not provide," says Nicky.


"We would like to test and apply the tool in various social science commercialisation projects to assist researchers in 1) understanding the major commercialisation hurdles related to their research, 2) focusing their efforts on those areas, and 3) expediting their commercialisation efforts. We are currently collaborating with Cambridge Enterprise to create a plan for implementing the tool at the University of Cambridge. Additionally, we have received interest from other UK universities, as well as funding bodies."


The report provides insight into possible actions that may accelerate progress and unlock even more of the potential value that can be realised from social science research. Alongside concretely identified enablers and barriers to commercialisation, Nicky and Tomas suggest that the University establish a ‘new home’ for commercialisation for the social sciences. An institution dedicated to supporting researchers who want to commercialise could help decrease the financial and professional risks involved, ultimately magnifying social science research's social impact.



Download: 'Commercialising Social Science Research: Insights from the University of Cambridge on key barriers, enablers and pathways to success'.

Date published

17 April 2024

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