Final Report: Organisation and Outcomes by ,
byPeter Lansley, Director
SPARC was an innovatory project designed to breathe new life into ageing research at a time when the concern and enthusiasm of many different interest groups in the area was in danger of being ignored. Building on a concern to create opportunities for those academics and researchers wishing to align their careers to the field, especially those in early-career, and to make the most of the strong support and interest of non-academic groups which had engaged in earlier ageing research activities, lengthy and at times intense negotiations ensued. These eventually led to the funding of this project. SPARC consisted of three main activities: supporting newcomers to ageing research through small pump-priming awards; workshops and similar activities involving a full range of interested parties including older people; and advocacy to policy makers.
This was a complex project, with many outcomes. SPARC supported 34 pump-priming projects which ranged across design, engineering and biology, some with inputs from the social and medical sciences. Each project produced a final report in a format suited to its particular topic and reflecting the traditions of the disciplines on which the project was built. The outcomes, achievements and implications of the projects are reviewed in a parallel document Ageing research going places. Further information about the project, including executive summaries of most of them, can be found on the SPARC website www.sparc.ac.uk. The website also contains the proceedings of nearly all of the 47 workshops organised by SPARC, and recorded interviews with 20 of the award holders.
This report considers
SPARC as a project concerned with introducing new perspectives on the
relationship between researchers and the beneficiaries and users of that work.
Although familiar in some areas of ageing research, the value of this
relationship is not widely appreciated in other areas. So, the report discusses
the processes of developing, organising and managing a project which aimed to
change the culture of ageing research through developing the skills and
experience of members of 34 research teams and enriching ageing research in the
The report is
very detailed. In part this if for the sake of accountability and for
posterity, but of more importance is that there is genuine interest in this level
of detail. SPARC has been the focus of interest of many of those organisations
which are contemplating capacity building programmes in ageing research and in
other fields, in the
Some sections of the report are largely concerned with the background and development of SPARC, its organisation, an assessment of whether it met its objectives and a discussion of its achievements (Sections 1, 2 & 7). These will be relevant to those interested in the organisation and management of research. Other sections are focused on specific achievements in terms of the projects, workshops and advocacy and the support given to the award holders (Sections 3, 4, 5 & 6). The initial summary provides a succinct guide to both the organisation and the outcomes of SPARC.
I should like to thank sincerely all of those who were involved in bringing SPARC to fruition.
The model for SPARC was developed with considerable encouragement from Dr Peter Hedges and Dr Emily Nott, both of EPSRC, and endorsed by Dr Colin Miles, BBSRC, who enthusiastically embraced the vision of what we wanted to achieve. Dr Kedar Pandya, EPSRC, played a key role in securing funding support and, later, Dr Lesley Heppell, BBSRC, provided further funding. Dr John Wand, EPSRC, provided important support at the end of the project.
Thanks are also
due to the members of the SPARC advisory committee for their tireless and
unselfish contributions to the work of SPARC. They spent many hours considering
research proposals, final reports and committee papers. Particular thanks are
due to Mrs Elizabeth Mills, OBE, Chair of the committee, and Dr Lorna Layward,
Deputy Chair, who were particularly involved in discussions with the directors
about the organisation and progress of SPARC. The committee
members were Dr Elizabeth White, Dr Deborah Dunn-Walters, Dr Sian Henson,
Professor David Kipling, Professor Bernie Conway, Professor Marcus Ormerod,
Professor Kevin Morgan, Professor Constantinos Maganaris and the late Professor
Janet Askham. My thanks are also offered to colleagues in the SPARC
Secretariat, Verity Smith and Dr Lucy Chappell at the
Finally, thanks goes to those many individuals, mostly practitioners and older people but also researchers and academics, who seven years ago were such enthusiastic supporters of a more inclusive approach to ageing research and for recruiting fresh faces to the field. They provided the inspiration for what became SPARC. This report has been written with their interests and concerns, and those of like-minded people, in mind.
This report is an account of SPARC as viewed by the principal investigator, from the initial suggestion of the project in 2002, during the latter half of the EQUAL Network, through the life of SPARC, to the initiation of KT-EQUAL, which will follow. Other members of the secretariat, members of the advisory committee, and especially the award holders have shared part of that experience. Their different paths to and onwards from SPARC, and their engagement with it, will lead them to place different interpretations on the priorities of SPARC and on its achievements. This is an individual account. It will not be assessed by EPSRC and BBSRC although it has been presented to them.
University of Reading