Working in partnership to influence policy. Insights from The Open University in Scotland

The Open University is a unique player in the Higher Education environment, and builds on its partnerships to engage policy makers and the policy agenda

The Open University (OU) is a four nations university, and operates within the distinct jurisdictions of the UK. It has a unique position in the HE sector, as a provider with mass reach, achieved through a well-developed, sophisticated, supported and flexible digital delivery model. The OU is unique, and a leader in its well established student support systems, developed through many years of being at the cutting edge of supported distance learning.

Since its inception over 50 years ago, the OU has always been at the beating heart of communities, with social justice being front and centre of its mission. The OU has never shied away from its responsibility as a thought leader, innovator, disruptor and changemaker bringing critical thinking and fresh ideas to the table. As a trusted and willing collaborator, it knows that solutions lie with the many, not the few and thrives working in partnership, whether across the HE sector, or in the wider complex external environment alongside other organisations including businesses, government and third sector organisations.

At The Open University in Scotland, we’ve been interested in how research can influence policy and change for a number of years. In 2021 we ran a number of policy related projects in the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic. The impetus behind this was to engage with some complex and challenging issues, and to look to stimulate conversation, debate and discussion – and ultimately to inform policy makers on how they might take things forward.

A number of projects were developed, including an important one with Voluntary Health Scotland (VHS), a close partner of the OU in Scotland.

We collaborated on a small scale, policy project related to serious mental health issues in the over 65 population in Scotland. This work built on preliminary research and engagement carried out by VHS in 2019. Issues identified at that time included under-diagnosis, under-provision, and poor transitions from ‘adult’ services to ‘older people’ services. More evidence and action were needed if policy and practice was to improve, but the Covid-19 pandemic halted further progress. This new phase of the project aimed to reinstate engagement with key stakeholders, including policy makers to establish the impact of Covid-19, if any, on the issues. It also sought to identify potential next steps and publish a short report.

We held two online round tables, each involving key stakeholders, drawn from the public, independent and third sectors, e.g. Scottish Government, Mental Welfare Commission Scotland, Care Inspectorate, Audit Scotland, Support in Mind Scotland, Bipolar Scotland, Age Scotland and Scottish Care. All stakeholders had a professional role and interest in older people’s mental health. The first round table provided the opportunity for participants to share their experiences on whether Covid-19 had impacted on the issues previously identified. The second round table presented policy and practice perspectives on the priorities and opportunities for next steps

The OU provided academic expertise, in the mental health area to enrich the discussions and to help to inform the next steps and future actions. Susan Stewart, Director of The Open University in Scotland said:

"We were delighted to be able to support the work of Voluntary Health Scotland and their partners in this important work. The OU can help bridge the gap between academia, practitioners, communities and interested organisations to ensure that policy is evidence-led and rooted in the experience of the people who use their services”

This project is an excellent example of how The Open University in Scotland adds value to relevant and challenging social issues, and in this case, ultimately engaging with policy makers to inform the wider debate on mental health services for the over 65s.

Derek Goldman currently manages and leads the OU in Scotland’s work in knowledge exchange and innovation, including taking forward the OU in Scotland’s response to COP26 and associated activities. Historically Derek has worked in various roles at the OU, including developing programmes in work-based learning, and as an Associate Lecturer in the OU’s Faculty of Health and Social Care and in the OU Business School.

A career spanning over 30 years in education, Derek has worked extensively across the sector including in communities, the school sector, and in post-school education settings. Throughout his career his work has always been informed by collaboration and bringing people together with different perspectives, resulting in better outcomes.



Posted 22/02/2022 11:26

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