Experts aren’t just for emergencies: How COVID-19 is changing evidence-based policy making for the better

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Michael Gove famously said in 2016 that ‘people in this country have had enough of experts’, and with social media ‘bubbles’, fake news, and the media desire to present opposing viewpoints – however marginal - it can often feel this way.

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Public attitudes on compliance with COVID-19 lockdown restrictions

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Understanding the role of law in society, and not only in strict ‘legal’ terms, has rarely been so important.

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Towards a Carbon-Free Campus: How a Balanced Energy Network can reduce our dependency on fossil fuels

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Despite decades of protests and raising awareness, carbon emissions have continued to increase steadily.

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Policy engagement in lockdown - the University of Birmingham view

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Let’s not beat about the bush, the last few months have been challenging.

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Looking ahead to party political conferences 2020: Academic engagement during conference season

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Dr Grace Lordan, Megan Marsh, Professor Tony Travers and Dr Anna Valero describe how academics and the public affairs team at LSE have used party conferences to contribute to policy debates and drive the impact of academic research. A longer version of this blog appeared on the LSE Impact blog, @LSEImpactBlog.

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New report on academic engagement with UK legislatures

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The authors have recently published the report, Evaluating academic engagement with UK legislatures, a project which is funded by the ESRC IAA and supported by the UK's four legislatures.

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Building a 'Wellbeing Economy': is there a role for social enterprise?

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An Early Day Motion was recently laid in the UK Parliament calling for:

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Research making a difference in our communities and businesses

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Many of us have worked in retail at some point in our lives and would welcome the news that proposed legislation to protect shop workers from violence, verbal and physical abuse was put before the House of Commons on Monday 16th March.

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UPEN shares experiences of engaging with UK Government Areas of Research Interest

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This week, the Universities Policy Engagement Network (UPEN) publishes its first report, looking at how universities can use the “Areas of Research Interest” statements published by UK government Departments to strengthen the evidence base for policy decision making.

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Generating impact in the absence of government: Northern Ireland’s unlevel playing field

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Impact assessment regimes are largely a-spatial, in that they assume that the academics they assess have equal access and opportunities to influence at different scales (e.g. local, regional, national, international etc) regardless of where they are located. Taking the example of Northern Ireland, Dr Vanessa Gstrein and Maria Prince explore how the lack of a functioning government has limited the role that research focused on Northern Ireland can play in developing public policy in the province and the implications this has for universities in Northern Ireland, who have to compete for research funding with other universities in the UK.

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Harnessing the power of our PhD community

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As a relative newcomer to the higher education sector, it is extremely fulfilling working with such brilliant academic minds on so many different issues and as part of the Group Policy Unit here at Coventry University, we’re keen to support our academic colleagues to get involved in the policy making process.

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Listening makes for better policy making

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We are starting a new decade with a new government and fresh debate about what skills the civil service needs. One angle on this debate is about how best to answer the age-old question of “What makes effective policy?”

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What if citizens not tech hold the key to a radical new policy agenda?

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As a society we face some big challenges. Take your pick from a list that includes climate change, the Fourth Industrial Revolution, an ageing population, urbanisation and the growth of cities, and the rise of populism.

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Overseas policy engagement: a postcolonial approach to the sustainable development goals

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While the SOAS community does have strong working relationships with UK government departments, incoming changes in the REF structure and a redirection of government funding mean that as an Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences university we must also set our sights further afield and look at global priorities for higher education such as the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

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Why UPEN?

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When policy makers have needed expertise in the past they have always been able to get it.

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Why isn’t government policy more preventive?

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For decades, UK governments have used the phrase ‘prevention is better than cure’ to describe a new direction in policy and policymaking.

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Join us in March to discuss improving policy engagement with the Global South

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Countries in the Global South factor prominently in both the research conducted and curricula taught in UK universities.

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Support for policy engagement internationally – how can we strengthen our offer?

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As relative newcomer to the higher education sector it’s a privilege to work more closely with leading researchers whose evidence is making a difference. Policy engagement initiatives within UK universities are clearly making strides in facilitating the formation of evidence-based policy in local and national government.

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Building links between academia and policymakers - A MHCLG Perspective

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There is a tremendous thirst amongst policymakers to make better use of academic research says Stephen Aldridge, Director for Analysis and Data at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government

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Engagement for Policy Impact - A Welsh Perspective

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Years ago, working as a UK Government lawyer, I often pondered the gap between the policy process - the realm of Ministers and their officials, often (not always well-enough!) informed by research - and the people and places affected by its legislative outputs.

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Diversity of ideas: we need more tools in our toolbox

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My favourite metaphor for diversity is one of a toolbox.

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Universities need to do more to support impactful researchers

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For anyone who has worked in or on policy engagement, the image of the furiously busy policymaker will be all too familiar.

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The Impact of Campaigning

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On International Women’s Day 2019, ‘Speak Up’ a book aimed at inspiring others to ‘use your voice to change the world’ was published. This book told the story of Laura Coryton’s experience of running a successful campaign and ultimately changing international taxation laws. However, as the book made its way around our office we started to notice similarities between running a successful campaign and delivering impactful research.

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Effective Collaboration: how the corporate world could learn a thing or two from the higher education sector

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I am still relatively new to my role as Director of Public Affairs at Durham University, having joined at the beginning of October. Prior to that my career has been predominantly in the corporate consultancy world, working with national and international companies, as well as some NHS Trusts and HE institutions for good measure.

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University research thinking needs an extra level

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Jack O’Sullivan argues that new think tanks and policy institutes should widen their mission – to embed interdisciplinary thinking about research.

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What’s next from Parliament’s Knowledge Exchange Unit? Three more things to support you to engage with UK Parliament!

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The KE Unit at the UK Parliament has been going for just over a year now, and at the end of November we celebrated our one-year Twitterversary!

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Mobilising meaningful connections between evidence and practice

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At the Wales Centre for Public Policy (WCPP), we are continually reflecting upon our role as a ‘knowledge brokerage organisation’ (KBO). We see ‘knowledge brokerage’ as the practice of connecting researchers and decision makers to help inform public policy and professional practice. Although knowledge brokerage has great potential, we also recognise the complexity inherent in our work.

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Policy at Strathyclyde

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This has been an extremely exciting few months for Policy at Strathclyde where we have been working on a wide range of programmes that aim to support and enhance policy making in Scotland, the wider UK and beyond.

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Nottingham's Good Work Programme: A place-based approach to addressing economic insecurity

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Bringing together policy development, civic engagement, student experience and academic research.

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Reality TV, Emotional AI and Governance of Digital Futures

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Vian Bakir and Andrew McStay regularly engage with policy-makers in the digital media field, under the auspices of the Network for Study of Media & Persuasive Communication and the Emotional AI lab.

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Tackling climate change together – through partnerships, policy and engagement

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As I write this blog, the impact and realisation of climate change becomes ever more apparent. Amid Brexit, climate change dominates the news – from the recent Queen’s Speech to Extinction Rebellion protests across the country.

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Five ways to increase diversity of voice and make academic-policy engagement more equitable

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For those of us working in academic-policy engagement, consideration of how to ensure a diversity of expertise in engaging with public policy is increasingly pressing. The recent House of Commons Liaison Committee inquiry into the effectiveness and influence of the select committee system inquiry (to which UPEN submitted evidence) provided a timely opportunity to reflect on the responsibility of both parliament and knowledge brokers to increase diversity in academic-policy interactions.

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IPR launches new event series on the future of UK farming, wildlife loss and climate change

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'The Future is in Our Lands’ is a new public event series which will address issues around the future of UK land and farming, sustainable food production, and the protection of our ecosystems.

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Carving out the time to take a step back

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Like most of those reading this blog, the Centre for Science and Policy (CSaP) at the University of Cambridge has spent a fair amount of time considering and trialling methods of brokering relations between academics and policy makers.

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Looking ahead

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UPEN gathered for its first meeting of the Academic year in Bristol on Monday, kindly hosted by Policy Bristol in their rather nice, and wonderfully located, offices between College Green and Bristol’s Waterfront.

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How media engagement brings benefits for policy brokerage

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There are clear benefits for academics who engage with the media to publicise their research and expertise. By learning how to explain their research to new audiences, they improve their communication skills and boost their personal profiles and that of their university.

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Making an impact with research: how to engage critically with well-meaning advice

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The 'impact' agenda has prompted many academics and organisations to recommend how to use research to influence policy and practice. In this post, Paul Cairney and Kathryn Oliver reflect on the value of this advice and warn against taking it too firmly to heart. The post trails their forthcoming contribution to 'UoN Engaged', hosted at the University of Nottingham on the 17th of September.

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A year in the life of a new policy engagement function

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12 months ago, I joined the University of Warwick as the new Head of Government Affairs, charged with the exciting, and equally daunting, task of developing and implementing the institution’s strategic approach to government policy engagement. The last year has flown by in a whirlwind of meetings, long days and policy events, in-between the bread and butter of all policy roles – intelligence gathering and horizon-scanning. Here I share a few of the many lessons I’ve learned from my experiences over the past year.

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UPEN: Plans and Objectives for Academic Year 2019-20

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UPEN has formally existed for barely a year, and yet done a huge amount. And for that Gavin Costigan, the founding and outgoing Chair, deserves huge plaudits.

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UPEN- A year in review led by the Public|Policy Southampton

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In the summer of 2018, I was exchanging emails with colleagues in policy brokerage roles across a number of universities. There had been an informal network of us for a year or two, which had met from time to time, but had no formal structure or specific plans. Yet when I mentioned this putative network to contacts in Government, several were excited and keen to attend meetings. The question I provoked last summer was: Is this the time to develop and agree a formalised network?

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Badgers, bees, beams, floods, and hormones: being an honest broker to policymakers

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On 13 June UCL kindly hosted a welcome opportunity for UPEN members to discuss policy brokerage with Professor Sir Peter Gluckman, Professor Sir Ian Boyd, Professor Robin Grimes and Dr Kathryn Oliver. Several participants touched on evidence synthesis – a potentially neutral way for researchers and academics to act as brokers to help policymakers understand evidence.

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Changing Policy of Traumatic Brain Injury in the Criminal Justice System

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As a Clinical Neuropsychologist I am interested in how the brain works, and what happens when people have injuries to the brain - from assaults, car accidents and falls and such like. Most injuries are “mild” – often thought of as “concussion” - but some – around 20% - are significant – with changes to the brain – and mind – that lasts a lifetime. The changes are typically in parts of the brain that allows people to remember, to plan ahead and to follow that plan (remember!). But also – importantly – to manage emotions. To rein ourselves in. How would it be if we acted on an impulse?

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The Wales Centre for Public Policy: our Theory of Change

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The Wales Centre for Public Policy works with leading policy experts to provide Ministers, the civil service and public services in Wales with independent and authoritative evidence and expertise. It also conducts research on the processes and practices of policy-making and evidence use to contribute to knowledge and inform its own ways of working.

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What Works Now

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I spent a fascinating afternoon earlier this week at a roundtable hosted by NESTA (the National Endowment for Science and the Arts) to discuss What Works Now – Evidence Informed Policy and Practice (Policy Press 2019), a book edited by Annette Boaz, Huw Davies, Alec Fraser and Sandra Nutley. The collection of essays build on the earlier What Works? (Policy Press, 2000), and brings together pieces that look comprehensively at how evidence is used to inform practice and policy making across different sectors and in different countries.

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Open Innovation and Policy Engagement at the University of York

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As universities seek to up their game with respect to policy engagement, a range of proactive and reactive strategies, alongside associated processes, have arisen within Higher Education. Both forms of strategy are bound up in the dynamics of a sector that is geared towards sharing best practice, yet at the same time attuned to the increasingly competitive dynamics that characterise the university research funding landscape.

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Student engagement: Serving the needs of society by influencing policymakers of the future

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Like many similar units, the Policy Institute is primarily concerned with producing academically rigorous solutions to policy challenges. But in addition to research, we’re also passionate about working with students, partly to help develop those solutions, but also to add to their experience of King’s, and ultimately their employability and personal development.

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The Scottish Policy and Research Exchange

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The Scottish Policy and Research Exchange is a network of academics and officials working in new ways to expand the evidence base available to policymakers. Much of this involves encouraging and supporting new voices from the academy to engage with policy.

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Ageing to be next mission for social business incubator Zinc – a partnership between universities and business to help find solutions to grand challenges

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Entrepreneurial engagement with Zinc’s programme of missions show how the private sector can draw on social science research to tackle pressing societal issues that policy makers are looking to solve. The programme, supported by the ASPECT initiative, is currently looking at a third mission around the topic of ageing writes Megan Marsh, Public Affairs Officer at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).

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Don’t forget to look local

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While national Government has an ever increasing amount of support available for policymaking, it’s important not to leave local and regional policymakers out when it comes to providing scientific advice.

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From catalyst to conduit

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We’ve learnt a lot since we started MetroPolis, our think tank at Manchester Metropolitan University.

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Collaborative Engagement: How Research and Practice is Impacting Communities

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There is a common and persistent belief out there that entrepreneurship is about creativity - that it's about having a great idea. But it's not, really. Entrepreneurship isn't about creativity. It's about organization-building - which, in turn, is about people.Andrew Yang

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Shaping Futures: Working for Better Housing Outcomes in Britain, Canada and Australia

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Shaping Futures grew out of a tradition of housing research at the University of Glasgow and, supported by the universities of New South Wales and Toronto, it developed into an international collaborative partnership of 17 non-profit housing providers, cities and government agencies. It exchanged and produced knowledge in three face-to-face meetings to plan and progress joint-working over three years about housing processes, problems and policies in Australia, Britain and Canada (ABC countries).

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What academics really think about policy engagement

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In May 2018 I began a parliamentary academic fellowship with the House of Commons Select Committee on International Development. This committee, like many others, hears mainly from a small group of universities, mainly in London and the South East, and wanted to know how to engage a wider range of academic expertise across the country.

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The ‘5 Ts’ of policy engagement: PolicyBristol’s approach to supporting academics

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Supporting academics across the University of Bristol to achieve policy impact from their research is a diverse and fascinating job. In the process of doing this, our team at PolicyBristol is constantly learning about new topics; from the value of NHS managers to refugee rights, enhancing peace processes to the role of universities. Although each project uses a bespoke approach, this can be summarised under the following key principles for engagement which we refer to as the ‘five Ts’:

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Blogging for a policy audience

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Blogs can be a useful tool to reach policymakers, says Nick Bibby of the Scottish Policy and Research Exchange, and can be made all the more effective by following a few simple guidelines.

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Leeds Social Sciences Institute engaging policy

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In January 2019, LSSI and Leeds Barc University Business School hosted a workshop which brought together researchers at Leeds with those operating in policy and analysis at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

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Informing a national conversation on child hunger

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As the number of children living in poverty grows, academic research is informing a UK-wide, cross-party inquiry on how we can ensure that children get the nourishment they need. Its report will be launched in Westminster on 25th April 2019.

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Ten lessons for policy engagement

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The Centre for Science and Policy (CSaP) is part of the University of Cambridge and its mission is to improve public policy through the more effective use of evidence and expertise. We do this by creating opportunities for public policy professionals and academics to learn from each other. Since CSaP was founded in July 2009, we’ve learnt a few things! So, in anticipation of CSaP’s 10th anniversary, we thought we’d share ten lessons from our journey.

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Understanding street gangs and youth violence

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Most academics enter into academia because we are curious and love our subject. But this means we can struggle with the challenges of influencing policy and practice in a complex world that is often indifferent to our research. Occasionally, research is recognized as having something to say outside of our network of researchers and this can be both exciting and demanding.

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Making space for new models of academic-policy engagement

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As Head of UCL Public Policy, I lead UCL’s institutional initiative to support academic-policy engagement. I haven’t always had this role and reflecting back on my career to date, I have been on a journey of discovery to get there.

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A new dawn in evidence informed policy?

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Much has changed since my 2017 blog on engaging with policymakers. Brexit dominating the policy landscape has impacted both international and domestic agendas, often limiting opportunities to get research seen and heard by decision makers. However new developments are starting to take shape, helping to feed more scientific evidence into policy. I explore some of these here, highlighting a few examples of the routes I have taken over the past year.

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Of Mice and MPs: a year of engaging with Parliament

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A week in politics might be a long time, but a year of working with parliament flies over. Or at least that was one reflection I had recently, when attempting to capture the range of Durham University’s contributions to the UK and devolved parliaments over the last 12 months. We’ve had a big push on increasing our parliamentary engagement in the last year and it has been hugely encouraging to see many of our Early Career Researchers (ECRs) and PhD students getting involved, as well as more experienced colleagues, for whom working with policymakers has long been core to their work.

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It’s not all plain sailing: providing navigation on Post-Brexit trade policy

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There is (probably) no greater nor more topical example of the complexity of policymaking than Brexit. As has been evident over the last two years – which culminated in a fascinating series of Parliamentary votes last week – policymaking is far from a discrete one-off decision, but rather a complex non-linear process that involves a multitude of actors and forces, both inside and outside Parliament, operating at multiple levels.

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Public Policy|Southampton – the journey so far

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Whenever I tell people that I work at a university, their first question is usually: What do I teach? Even amongst people who know the complexity of university structures and the vast number of roles that exist across Professional Services, explaining what a public policy team does is not straightforward – because we are still the new kids on the block within higher education institutes. So as I look back at the last three years at the work of the public policy team in Southampton since its establishment as a cross-university unit in 2016, it’s worth reflecting – what have we actually achieved?

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Third mission accomplished? Why are universities bad at engaging with local and regional government and what we can do about it.

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Universities are increasingly called upon to engage with local and regional government, namely as part of a ‘third academic mission’, but how effectively do they incentivize academics to do so?

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Human skills will always be needed in a technological age

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The ambitions in the Industrial Strategy are lofty and far reaching.

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Over 10,000 problem solvers at your disposal

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Essentially, the role of Government Chief Scientific Adviser (GCSA) is to ensure that the Prime Minister and the government have advice based on world-leading science, and that policies and decisions are informed by scientific evidence and strategic long-term thinking.

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Social media and screen-time: To ban or not to ban – that’s probably not the question

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Informed by evidence from academics, royal societies, health officials, social media companies, young people, teachers, government ministers, research funders and more, the Science and Technology Committee report on the impact of social media and screen-use on young people’s health covers a range of issues: from risks, harms and benefits, regulations and guidance, to resources for schools and teachers.

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How to live to 100 and tell people about it!

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We are all living longer; since 1850, we’ve gained around 2.5 years of life expectancy per decade and it’s estimated that one in three children born today will live to be 100 years old. In Europe there is one retiree for every four people of working age, by 2060 this is expected to rise to one in two.

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What makes an academic paper useful for health policy?

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Evidence-based policy ensures that the best interventions are effectively implemented. Integrating rigorous, relevant science into policy is therefore essential. Barriers include the evidence not being there; lack of demand by policymakers; academics not producing rigorous, relevant papers within the timeframe of the policy cycle. This piece addresses the last problem.

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2018 in review: round-up of our top posts on connecting research with policy

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A round up of top posts from 2018.

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Six important things about impact you need to know from the REF2021 guidance

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The final guidance for REF2021 was released this week. Most of the guidance on impact is consistent with what I expected from the consultation. For the full guidance on the submission of impact case studies to REF2021 see pages 68-76 of the and do a keyword search for “impact” to find any specific guidance for your Main Panel or Unit of Assessment in the Panel Criteria and Working Methods.

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Do we need to “fail fast” to achieve open access?

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Progress to open access has stalled. After two decades of trying, the proportion of born-free articles is stuck at 20%. Kicking off the Impact Blog’s Open Access Week coverage, Toby Green suggests the solution to our financially unsustainable scholarly publishing system may lie in rethinking traditional processes using internet-era norms. Embracing the principle of “fail fast”, all papers should first be published as freely available preprints to test whether they “succeed” or “fail”, with journals then competing to invite authors to publish. This would reduce the costs of the expensive, straining peer review system while ensuring all papers are available to all readers.

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Building a culture of research impact

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Drawing on case study evidence from the DFID-ESRC Growth Research Programme, Louise Shaxson suggests that developing a culture of engagement and collaboration is just as important to achieving research impact as following best practice, and presents five principles that underpin an effective research impact culture.

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Lifelong consequences – the importance of early intervention

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Following over 100 pieces of written evidence and oral evidence from 26 witnesses, yesterday the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee published their report on ‘Evidence-based early years intervention’, calling on the Government to draw up a new national strategy for early intervention approaches to address childhood adversity and trauma.

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Public policy impact (and how to get paid for it)

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In all the restructuring of higher education in recent years, the primacy of the message about needing to ensure impact from research has remained consistent.

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