Developing the potential of an SME

In 2018 the ESRC awarded Industrial Strategy funding to Bristol for Early Career Researcher secondments to business and industry. Dr Olivia Maynard led one of these secondments with Carlos Sillero-Rejon, working with Upping Your Elvis, a creative agency SME.

The Industrial Strategy aims to help UK companies to be better at turning exciting ideas into strong commercial products and services, to ensure excellence in discovery translates into its application in industrial and commercial practices, and so into increased productivity. Partnerships between companies and researchers are seen as a vital mechanism to supporting this goal. The ESRC funding, part of the Government's Industrial Strategy, was for secondments that build on research already undertaken, or expanding existing relationships to include social science, or helping scope new areas of partnerships and research with business.

Dr Olivia Maynard won funding for Carlos Sillero-Rejon to work with Upping Your Elvis, a creative agency founded by Chris Barez-Brown in 2009.

Through their Wake Up! and Talk It Out programmes, Chris and his small team had worked with the likes of Unilever, ITV, Spotify and Nike as well as businesses just starting out to increase the wellbeing and productivity of their staff. By 2018, this SME needed a formal evaluation of their success, to provide evidence and methodologies that would inform their business strategy and direction. This was envisaged as leading to a 5-year strategic plan for the company, making them well-placed for further funding sources such Innovate UK.

Wake Up! is about the simple, everyday things that improve people’s overall consciousness in the workplace. As well as book and workshops, Wake Up! is delivered to over 10,000 people via an app. Talk it Out is a mental wellbeing programme designed as a therapeutic tool to help people with anxiety.

Upping Your Elvis was interested in evaluating the efficacy and validity of these two programmes, to develop proof-of-concept evidence that would help them to deliver these programs to wider audiences. They had no research experience of their own or the capacity to undertake scientifically valid evaluations. As an ECR in Psychological Science, Carlos had a strong academic background in economics, market research and experimental psychology and a professional interest in collaborating in the development and evaluation of behaviour change interventions across a wide spectrum of behaviours.

Over an 8-month period 2018 to 2019, Carlos was seconded to work with the company to co-design an academically-sound evaluation, examining the effectiveness of their two main programmes and how these could be delivered at scale. With Carlos’ support, the key components of the programmes were identified and evaluated. He then worked with the Upping Your Elvis team to identify additional components, such as methods of measuring success in the future, that needed to be implemented to inform any long-term planning.

This collaboration enabled Carlos to develop an understanding of his areas of expertise in a non-academic setting. Working with a non-academic partner showed him the both the differences between academia and industry, and the key similarities. His report with Olivia at the end of the secondment concluded that he had successfully

  • provided training about wellbeing and wellbeing interventions to the Upping Your Elvis team
  • provided Upping Your Elvis with an understanding of how to assess the efficacy of their interventions 
  • evaluated Talk It Out as a wellbeing intervention using a scientific and theory-based approach
  • developed skills in intervention development and in working with industry partners
  • increased knowledge about wellbeing and wellbeing interventions which could be used in future projects.

“From our perspective, we have learnt how to work with non-academic partners, including how to develop a work plan, how to adapt scientific methods to their needs, how to effectively communicate results and how to help non-academic partners understand the main conclusions and implications. We have learnt that our approach to scientific research must be different when working with non-academic partners. Our non-academic partner has learned how to approach and evaluate their programmes using a more rigorous and scientific approach. As a result of our partnership, they have developed new wellbeing interventions. We have found this an incredibly useful collaboration and will stay in contact with Upping Your Elvis. Their business is expanding and we hope that in the future we will be able to develop new collaborations to evaluate and develop new interventions.” Olivia Maynard


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