Meet the expert

Meet the Expert - Ruth Harris

Welcome to a special edition of 'Meet the Expert' featuring a member of the FiMT Research Centre team. This series brings you informative interviews with Armed Forces researchers, policy makers and service providers. This edition features Ruth Harris, Co-Director of the FiMT Research Centre. Read on to learn about her current work, aspirations for progress and future work, and insights into expert perspectives on key issues impacting ex-Service personnel and their families.

mceu_63600171511715868742725.pngRuth Harris is Co-Director of the Forces in Mind Trust Research Centre and Director of the Defence and Security research group at RAND Europe. Previously she Served in the UK Armed Forces and, before this, in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. Her military experience includes working with the United Nations, International Committee of the Red Cross, NATO and Armed Forces across Europe and the USA. 

 1. Please tell us about your background and how you came to be involved in work relating to the Armed Forces Community?

I lead a team of 50 full-time researchers at RAND Europe who work on a range of topics across Defence and security. These include Defence economics, acquisition, and industry; strategy and policy making; capability assessment; regional research into countries including Russia, China and our allies; deterrence, technology and emerging risk; energy security and climate change; counter-terrorism and societal resilience; and the Defence workforce and Armed Forces community.  These last subjects cut across all the areas we research. The decisions that policymakers make, the equipment governments procure and the responses we give to our adversaries and allies, for example, will all impact the Armed Forces community both at the time and in the future. They are always on our mind. Prior to leading my team at RAND Europe, I was in the Royal Air Force for 23 years. I travelled the world – there is not a continent I did not visit – and deployed on operations including in Kosovo, Sierra Leone, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Indonesia, and the Falkland Islands. I Served proudly alongside the Royal Navy and British Army and Armed Forces from tens of different nations, I know the Armed Forces well. I joined RAND in 2019. It was my pleasure to be awarded the role of Co-Director of the FIMT Research Centre alongside my fantastic colleague Professor Nicola Fear from King’s Centre for Military Health Research (KCMHR)  from whom I always learn a great deal.

 2. What research projects are you currently working on and how do they fit into the bigger picture of understanding and supporting the Armed Forces Community?

Honestly, I do not personally get any time to work closely on research projects myself any longer. Leading a research team of this size and scope demands a different set of skills, many of which are very similar to those I learned in the Royal Air Force. I am however hugely proud of my team who are working at the cutting edge of topics directly affecting the Armed Forces community. These include the implementation phase of the Haythornthwaite Review, working to understand the needs and gaps in support to Foreign and Commonwealth UK-Veterans, and understanding the financial issues and needs around partners of those in the Armed Forces. Also, numerous projects to help support the decisions made to ensure that currently Serving individuals get the right kit and equipment, have strong and supportive doctrine, and understand the wars and conflict of the future and how they may be shaped by technology. Either directly or indirectly everything we do affects the Armed Forces in the UK, our Five Eyes or European allies.

3. What other research or policy areas relating to the Armed Forces Community are you especially passionate about or feel need further attention? Please expand on this and tell us about them, as much as you can.

Understanding why some Veterans do not want to engage with research about Veterans – Sir Nick Pope from COBSEO hit on this note recently in a question he asked at the FiMT Research Centre conference – there are so many positive news stories out there and huge successes, we need to take care that research into problem areas does not lead to the belief amongst the Armed Forces community and the general public that Veterans equals problems – researcher beware!

The role of faith and belief in the Armed Forces is wholly unexplored in any depth. This is not only about religions but about the things that are important to and drive individuals. Understanding this about the Armed Forces community in the UK, our allies and adversaries will give us a strategic advantage both for supporting Veterans, retention, and quality of life and how we approach and act with allies and towards adversaries.

There are many more, but such ideas are often better generated by junior researchers.

 4. What are your future aspirations for the impact and utilization of your work/research?

RAND prioritises impact for public good in all the work we do, even where we are unable to publish some more sensitive work. For the FiMT Research Centre we are looking to the future, how do we become self-sustaining, how do we ensure that the vital areas including the repository, research and policy summaries, policy updates and research into the areas that are vital but too hard for many researchers to engage with or get funding for – how do we cover that ground.  In short, we are looking to ensure that we endure, adapt, and grow so that we continue to support researchers and thus directly and indirectly the Armed Forces Community.

 5. What do you think are the key challenges impacting current Veterans and their families, and how do you think research and/or policy can be best used to address them?

What the Armed Forces Covenant means in practice and are we living up to the political rhetoric? Why are Veterans cared for so much better in some other nations than our own and yet people say they are proud of their Armed Forces in the UK?

6. What do you think will be the leading challenges for the next generation of Veterans and how do you think research and/or policy can be best used to address them?

The challenge is not for the Veterans, but rather for the government, agencies, and charities. How will they support a different cohort of Veterans from those who Served in Iraq and Afghanistan? How will the government, agencies and charities understand the impact of working with technology and AI at reach from conflict whilst also appreciating the impact of close quarter battle and how this will affect people?  How will these organisations enable Veterans to take the high-end skills they have learned and use them in the future?  I do not think policy makers are anywhere near engaging with the impact of this new cohort – there is a lot of work for the next government to do, whoever that may be.

7. Can you tell us about the methods you tend to use in your research, and why you gravitate towards these kinds of approaches?

At RAND Europe we use a wide range of methods and increasingly use data science and modelling to support qualitative methods. We find a mixed method approach – whatever methods those might be – has the effect of engaging more widely and results in a greater diversity of findings and further questions than one method or style alone. I am also a huge fan of a proliferation of disciplines working on subjects – we try to bring in people from very different backgrounds who may know little about defence and security. This allows us to work in a multi-disciplinary way with partner teams in RAND in Europe, the US and Australia who may have backgrounds in health, social policy, crime and justice, education and innovation for example. It is what makes our research stand out – that and explaining things effectively so we can all understand.

8. Given unlimited funding and time, what would be your dream piece of research to undertake involving the Armed Forces community?

The creation and maintenance of a large-scale cohort of Veterans (I am talking thousands across the Five Eyes community) that is frequently updated, who are willing and able to support researchers in workshops, interviews, surveys and more. A great deal of time is spent finding people, if we can make this easier, funding bodies might also commit to research on more positive things in the Armed Forces community and work to understand why these are a success, as well as understand current issues.


Many thanks to Ruth Harris for sharing her insights.

Catch us next month for another interesting and informative interview with an expert from the Armed Forces research community.