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AHRC is giving academics the opportunity to open up a dialogue with government thanks to new call

Date: 18/09/2018


Government and academia need to have better and more joined-up conversations.

Both are using public funds to grapple with some of the biggest challenges that we face as a society, and both have a huge amount to learn from each other's knowledge and experience.

But all too often the two communities remain inscrutable to each other.

To remedy this situation for the last six years the AHRC has funded an Institute for Government course 'Engaging with Government'.

Rory Cormac
Dr Rory Cormac, delving into the archives. Copyright: Rory Cormac

“I got involved because I wanted guidance on how best to engage with government,” says Dr Rory Cormac an Associate Professor of International Relations specialising in Secret Intelligence, Covert Action, and National Security at the University of Nottingham.

“As outsiders its easy to see government as this great big hermetically-sealed blob. It can be hard to know how to get into this great machine, especially if you are a young academic and working outside of London.

“But as the government in a time of austerity is increasingly prioritising GCHQ, the secret service and special forces, I think my research is important. But given the obvious sensibilities I can't just walk in and say: 'Hey! Let's talk about spies!”

Engaging with government is also important because impact is seen as such an important and highly-regarded outcome of research projects.

“Because I look at British political from 1945 – and particularly the way the government used secret operations, covert actions and deniable foreign interventions to adapt to its declining colonial power - what I do has a lot of relevance,” says Dr Cormac.

“I focus on the Foreign Office; its bureaucracy and systems. I have explored what has happened and what lessons have been learned from using covert operations as a force multiplier. And I'm probably the only person who has really gone through all those records from the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s!”

The AHRC-funded scheme is specifically designed to help open doors in the heart of Whitehall.

“Engaging with Government was very well-organised and we were very well looked after.

“It was a relaxed, informal time, with a nice mix of disciplines. The Speakers were very insightful.”

One aspect of the course that Dr Cormac found especially useful was the experience he had talking about and presenting his work to non-experts - including working up a 30 second summary.

“This was nerve wracking but very useful,” he says. “It helped me get beyond jargon and think about my work in terms of big ideas and what debates it was contributing to.

“Everyone's research talks to a bigger debate. It's just a matter of working out what that is.

“One of the most useful spin offs for me has been what I learned about how to write and present my work in policy-appropriate terms.

“The result of this was an article I recently wrote for International Affairs was picked up and included in a Hansard briefing pack; and I've been invited to the Cabinet Office in September (2018).”

Developing the ability to speak to a non-expert audience has also helped Dr Cormac's media work and he has recently worked on two Channel 4 documentaries, a documentary on BBC Radio 4 and as an expert talking head for various outlets.

There were also opportunities on the course for networking, both with government staff and fellow academics.

“It's a wonderful course and I'd recommend it to anyone who wanted to better understand the significance of their research and how it is relevant to the government - as well as a wider public audience.”

More information about how to apply for the 2019 course (the closing date is the 28 September) can be found via ahrc.ukri.org/funding/apply-for-funding/current-opportunities/engaging-with-government-2019.

Associated image copyright: JTLondon on Flickr by CC2.0

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