This report is a summary of Donald Braben's work with BP's Venture Research Unit (VRU), a research funding initiative that ran from 1980 to 1990. It is based on Braben's reports in his books Pioneering Research and Scientific Freedom.
The VRU provided £20 million in research funding to about 30 researchers and small teams from Europe and North America. It aimed to fund determined researchers who questioned current thinking and would do transformative work. An important driver of the VRU approach was the idea that researchers with radical ideas would struggle to obtain funding through traditional means. Trust and freedom were considered essential aspects of the approach, and the unit's organisers sought to minimise administrative burdens. Though VRU-funded work led to several notable outcomes, similar initiatives have not been introduced on a large scale in the UK.
RAND Europe researchers initially came across Don Braben's work in 2005 in the course of supporting the UK Department of Health's Research and Development Directorate in developing a new R&D strategy. We produced an initial summary of Braben's work for that directorate. Because it has generated ongoing interest, we have produced this brief report — an updated version of the original, intended for public distribution.