Integrating reservists into the British Army

Professor Vince Connelly

Integrating reservists into the British Army’s Future Reserves 2020 programme

Professor Vince Connelly’s research has been instrumental in shaping a key reform for the British Army: integrating part-time reservists with full-time army forces. Reforming the role of reservists has been a major priority across the Armed Forces with UK Defence investing around £1.8 billion on the project between 2013 and 2020.

From 2013 onwards, Vince’s research looked at the barriers to successful integration and then helped shape both the policy and roll-out of the new reforms. The end result was that 30,000 reservists were more successfully integrated with 82,000 full-time regular army staff - a feat which had stalled many times before.

Why the change?

Professor Vince Connelly
Professor Vince Connelly

Internationally, military forces have been going through a period of radical change. Due to the expense and challenges of retaining a full-time workforce, most militaries have been moving towards better integrating full-time regular and part-time reservist personnel. Yet many previous reforms had failed due to workplace tension between full-time regular and part-time reservist staff and a lack of awareness of the ‘lived experience’ of the part-time reserve service. 

A ‘key strategic risk’ to culture change

The Ministry of Defence (MOD) asked Vince to look into what was needed for regulars and reservists to truly integrate. Grounding his approach in social science theory, he researched the tensions between the two groups concluding that a cultural shift was required, with full- time military personnel accepting the need for reserve forces.

The MOD identified Vince’s findings as a key strategic risk to their Future Reserves 2020 programme - a Tier 1 government programme which set out the changes. His research was also reflected in the 2013 White Paper, which acknowledged the scale of the challenge, and fed into the new programme design. His work continued to influence policy makers. In letters from 2016, the Secretary of State for Defence referred to culture change and integration of reserve and regular forces as the key continuing risk for the Armed Forces.

A world-first programme of research

Vince’s research together with further research on the reservists’ ‘lived experience’ by colleagues from the University of Edinburgh, flagged the need for further independent research into UK reservists. 

Funded jointly by the MOD and the Economic and Social Research Council, 4 separate projects were rolled out across 8 universities, including a projection on which Vince collaborated with his colleagues from Edinburgh University. Providing high-quality academic evidence for policymakers, the Future Reserves Research Programme (FRRP) was described by those in the MOD responsible for change as having delivered ‘powerful lessons for Army commanders’.

Army Reservists Taking a Break During an Exercise in Cyprus

Culture shift

The Army also drew on evidence from Vince’s work to make major changes to its operating culture. Between 2013 and 2016, they formally paired every reserve unit with a regular unit to boost integration. Another important step was switching the name from Territorial Army to Army Reserve - described by the MOD Director of Reserves for the Army as ‘a clear signal’ to reservists that they were now ‘an integrated part of the Army delivering military capability at home and abroad.’

The perceptions of regular army personnel were changing too. Year on year, greater numbers were agreeing that reservists are ‘valuable’, ‘professional’ and ‘well-integrated’. Greater numbers of reservists also reported feeling valued by regulars. 

Working together

Army Reservists on Exercise in Cyprus

Regulars and reserves now work together more frequently both at home and abroad, and the increased support has relieved overworked regular staff and provided greater workforce diversity. Improved marketing and recruitment stemming from a greater amount of research has also fuelled higher recruitment numbers with trained reservists now standing close to 30,000.

Reservists’ families have benefited from Vince’s expertise. In March 2020, responding to Covid-19, many Army reservists were deployed at short notice for full-time service. Vince, with colleagues from Edinburgh and King's College London, was asked to write best practice guidance for all Army welfare staff and to provide a letter to be sent to all Army Reserve families.

To cement the cultural change, he was invited to contribute to the Army’s first authoritative guidance on reservists for commanders in late 2018, with a second edition in 2021.

Delivering significant benefits

Vince’s highly regarded research has underpinned a radical cultural change within the British Army, fundamentally improving the working lives of both reservists and regular army forces. Ultimately his expertise and commitment to this work has been at the heart of policy-making and its roll-out, helping to create a sustainable defence organisation where army personnel can work together more effectively in navigating the challenges they face.


Image credits: © Crown Copyright 2014

  • Chinook by Cpl Lee Goddard, Image 45158738.jpg from www.defenceimages.mod.uk
  • Army Reservists Taking a Break During an Exercise in Cyprus by Sgt Brian Gamble, Image 45157226.jpg from www.defenceimages.mod.uk
  • Army Reservists on Exercise in Cyprus by Cpl Si Longworth RLC, Image 45157557.jpg from www.defenceimages.mod.uk

Back to top