School of Social and Political Science

Research Impact examples - Sociology


For the REF 2021, our research impact case studies in Sociology range from how public policy can incorporate the concept of kindness, to providing new opportunities to explore and understand fractious histories, and on to influencing how sustainable energy policies will benefit communities.

These examples represent just some of the impact of our Sociology team’s work,


Infrastructure of kindness: Kindness and public policy

Dr Julie Brownlie

Research by Dr Julie Brownlie and colleagues, in collaboration with the Carnegie UK Trust, explored what is meant when we talk about ‘kindness’. The project challenged the usual definitions of kindness, which is predominantly considered to exist at a level between individuals.

Dr Brownlie and her team identified that embedding kindness at a national policy level could have significant societal benefits. The work has had impact that is influencing the development of Scottish society:

  • Recommendations from the project have been adopted by the Scottish Government, with kindness becoming a central theme in public policy and public service reform. The research played a fundamental role in policy developments that have changed how kindness is understood and how it can be embedded into operational practice locally, nationally and beyond.
  • One of the key achievements is that kindness now sits at the heart of Scotland’s National Performance Framework (NPF), which outlines Scotland’s vision for national wellbeing.
  • The concept of kindness is being embedded within many Scottish voluntary, local authority and third sector organisations.

The project has also had impact outside Scotland, with the Welsh Government explicitly committing to pursuing values of kindness within government and public policy.

Rethinking and democratising knowledge of the South African past, 1770s to 1970s and beyond

Professor Liz Stanley

Professor Liz Stanley led three interconnected research initiatives aimed at rethinking previous dominant nationalist-orchestrated views of South Africa’s past.

These projects have promoted debates about racial politics and Afrikaner nationalist knowledge-making, and evidenced the fractured nature of the racialising process.

The research has produced three research websites:

  • Olive Schreiner Letters Online (OSLO)
  • Whites Writing Whiteness (WWW)
  • South African War Memorials (SAWM)

These databases of many thousands of digitalised letters, records and commemorative sites, have opened up access to previously little-known data.

This has had significant impact:

  • It has enabled a wide and diverse range of citizens to use the resources gathered on the sites and led to new knowledge-making of the South African past.
  • Thousands of people from hundreds of countries have used the research to learn about family histories, teach school children, make documentary films and radio programmes, write books, do archival work, inform commemoration activities, and more
From policy to practice: Identifying the communities, impacts and benefits from offshore energy projects

Dr Claire Haggett

The UK is a world leader in its commitment to offshore wind energy but it has struggled to ensure that local communities benefit from these renewable energy developments. Dr Claire Haggett’s body of research on societal aspects of renewable energy development is vital in identifying the relevant onshore communities for offshore projects and understanding how they are impacted.  

As a result of this research the Scottish Government became the first country worldwide to develop Best Practice Guidelines in 2015, formalising good practice for community benefits in this sector. The research is also helping transform industry practice across the UK, informing the Scottish Government’s Community Energy Policy.  

Clean heating for low-energy buildings: research-informed policy, regulation, and investment in the UK

Professor Jan Webb, MBE

Professor Jan Webb’s Heat and the City project examined governance of heat decarbonisation and energy efficiency in buildings in the UK and internationally.

In response to this research, the Scottish and UK governments have developed new heat and energy efficiency policies, including:

  • In particular, the UK Government established a Heat Networks Delivery Unit and £320m investment programme.
  • The Scottish Government revised its statutory definition of fuel poverty in Scotland. The research influenced heat regulation and energy planning through Scottish Government heat network legislation and proposals for new local authority statutory powers.
  • It also guided the development of the UK Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund bid Prospering from the Energy Revolution, resulting in Treasury investment of £102.5m in demonstrators of integrated smart local energy systems, and low carbon infrastructure.