Sharon Witherspoon and the Nuffield Foundation

Sharon has worked in the Foundation for 19 years. In that period she has been engaged with every aspect of the charity’s work and has made a huge contribution to it. She has worked very closely with Trustees and grant-holders to foster the Foundation’s distinctive approach, which involves robust research and analysis, capacity building, and ensuring the impact of the research on policy and practice. Central to all this has been a close engagement with academics and practitioners both to help Nuffield’s programmes of work to evolve and to engage at an early stage with potential grant applicants.

She developed our programmes on children and families, on law (including an enquiry on empirical research in law), and a number of broader issues in social policy, encouraging practical implementation projects as well as robust research. In the last three years Sharon has led the creation of the Foundation’s Q-Step programme to strengthen quantitative skills in UK undergraduate social scientists, the largest programme led by the Foundation (with funding also from the ESRC and HEFCE) in decades. Some 18 universities are actively involved in revising their quantitatively-based teaching as part of this programme to tackle the shortcomings identified by previous Nuffield-funded research.

Her tenure as Director has also been marked by a number of substantial changes to what we do, how we do it, enhanced governance arrangements and an increase in funds available for research through successful investment of the Foundation’s endowment funds.

Alongside her work within the Foundation, Sharon has played a very significant role externally in influencing a broad range of national policy discussions on research impact, data access and sharing, ethical reviews and in other areas where social science and ‘real-world’ problems meet.

Professor David Rhind, the Chairman of the Nuffield Foundation Trustees, said: “Sharon Witherspoon’s contributions to the work of the Foundation and to the impact that good social science research can have on public policy have been immense. Her astonishing capacity for work, her high intelligence and ability to go to the root of issues speedily, her ability to work successfully in partnership with other funders, academics and professional practitioners, and her devotion to making things better mark her out as a very special person. I thank her for all she has done for the Nuffield Foundation and the wider community.”

Sharon Witherspoon said: "The Foundation has been a wonderful place to work, and I still marvel at the way it continues to punch above its weight, which will, I am sure, continue. I am grateful for all the opportunities the Foundation, its past and present Trustees and my colleagues have given me. I will continue to seek ways to promote the strengthening of UK social science, recognising its importance, and improving its impact."

Sharon Witherspoon may be contacted on issues not concerning the Nuffield Foundation on