How we’re approaching Wellcome’s science review

Since we said that we were embarking on the science review, we have been working hard to clarify what we hope to achieve, how we’ll carry it out and who we’ll speak to.

Jim Smith seated at a round table listening to other people talking.
Jim Smith: "We want to get views that will challenge our thinking and ways of working."
Credit: David Sandison / Wellcome

Jim Smith

As we place more emphasis on our mission to improve health and better understand the impact of the research we fund, we and others are also recognising the importance of team science, interdisciplinarity, data science and open access to drive scientific progress. 

We are becoming more global, and the next generations of scientists are considering careers that diverge from the traditional academic path. We must be prepared to respond to future changes in science or our own circumstances.  

Our review will also think more consciously about Wellcome’s role as a foundation in supporting science. We aren’t accountable to taxpayers, shareholders or donors in the same way as our partners in government and other funding agencies, so we have an obligation to use our independence as effectively as possible.

The review will ask what Wellcome-funded science is for and how it can best achieve our mission to improve health. Our formal objectives are to:

  • establish a clear aspiration and bold ambitions for Wellcome-funded science
  • identify what changes Wellcome needs to make to achieve these ambitions
  • define realistic and appropriate ways to judge progress and success.

And four principles will guide our work.

  • Look forwards and work backwards: we will imagine where we want to be in 10 to 15 years, and then work back from that point.
  • Nothing is off the table: we will be ambitious in our vision but realistic in our implementation.
  • Nothing is set in stone: our recommendations must be flexible and able to adapt to scientific or financial changes.
  • Timescales will be realistic: we will take sufficient time to review, plan and implement changes. 

This last point is important: we do not want to introduce unnecessary disruption or uncertainty into researchers’ lives. We expect to take 12–18 months to complete the review, and another two years to plan and implement the proposals.

What we’re going to do next

We have just appointed a team of strategy consultants to help us define our approach to the review and build our preliminary vision.

We want to get as many views as possible and we want to speak to people we don’t usually interact with, to get views that will challenge our thinking and ways of working. 

These will come from around the world, and include philanthropists, entrepreneurs, investors, physical scientists, biomedical scientists, technologists, and leaders of international institutes and universities.

Our initial focus will be on these new groups, rather than the communities we already know. This will prevent us from being too inward looking and should help to generate diverse and innovative ideas early in the review process. 

During the summer we will then test and iterate ideas with Wellcome colleagues, with our grantholders and the people who help us reach our funding decisions. This will probably be through surveys, interviews and workshops.

It’s still early days, and we don’t yet know exactly how we’ll ask people to feed in to the review, but we’ll keep everyone up to date with what we are planning as we go along. 

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