Routes to Engaging with Government
Over the past four years, 62 early career researchers have participated in the AHRC-funded Institute for Government (IfG) course on ’Engaging with Government‘. Here, we will provide an overview of the ways in which alumni have used their experience on the course to inform their careers and to contribute to social dialogue. In follow up features, we shall explore some of the individual experiences in greater detail.
Introduction from Professor Andrew Thompson
A few years ago, we decided as a Council that we would take stock of our public policy engagements. We found they were more extensive, more varied, more interesting and more impactful than we had anticipated or imagined. This tremendously wide range of policy contributions from arts and humanities disciplines has been reflected in those who have participated in the Engaging with Government (EWG) course: with topics as varied as music, crime, housing, health economics, and climate change.
The UK's research base has much to offer the world of policy, but for its potential to be fully realised we have to expand our conception of what constitutes evidence and the range of academic disciplines to which policy makers have access.
The EWG programme illustrates just how complex the policy landscape is. Influence may be exerted in so many ways, via commissions from government departments, working collaboratively with an NGO, giving evidence to a parliamentary enquiry, stimulating debate through a think tank, or advising an international organisation.
None of this would be possible without the skill and energy that the Institute for Government (IfG) has demonstrated in running the EWG course. The IfG provides a neutral, impartial and independent space to think about improving policy making, which makes it an ideal organisation to play host to and organise a course of this kind.
This feature includes examples of how previous alumni of the EWG course have taken forward the skills, knowledge and understanding that they gained from the experience. I hope that you will be inspired by what they have achieved to consider how you could contribute in the policy space, and perhaps consider applying for the course to help you in that endeavour.
Professor Andrew Thompson
Interim AHRC Chief Executive
The course at the IfG really helped me develop new thinking around ways to make my research more accessible to policy audiences and engage with government. Since the end of the course, I have been busy collecting data for the AHRC-funded project I am working on, exploring child language brokers (children who interpret for family and peers). We have forged further links with a local council who have developed a Young Interpreters scheme with schools around this issue, and continue to work with them. We are also working with a filmmaker to develop a documentary around this issue which we hope to send to practitioners and policy makers.
In addition, following the media session at the IFG, I have attended further training courses and developed a programme idea for BBC Radio, drawing from some research I have done around diversity and cohesion.
Routes to engagement
The core messages of the course are that there are many routes into influence. Previous participants have heard from Whitehall civil servants, think tanks and from Parliamentary clerks about how they use research and how they find out who to talk to in the academic community. But the course also tries to make the point that there are many access points into government - if you know where to look - and lots of opportunities to influence in the devolved administrations, in local government, and with agencies tasked with implementation.
At the end of the course all participants are asked to complete their personal impact plan – how they are going to apply the insights they have gleaned over the three days at IfG to their work. The responses underline just how many possibilities there are for arts and humanities researchers to influence public and policy thinking. Participants have provided fantastic examples of using these routes to influence. In this first policy feature we have provided a brief overview but we shall be discussing these themes in more detail in upcoming features.
Alumni have found that there are many possible routes into Parliament. They have engaged at a variety of levels, including All Party Political Groups (APPG), select committees, and at Parliamentary Offices and House Libraries. Their research has informed issues such as interfaith relations, cultural impact, international conflict resolution, and media regulation within the UK. Their influence has contributed to ongoing debate and discussion, the formation of party policy, and the enactment of new laws.
Whitehall and agencies
There is a considerable appetite in central Whitehall departments to engage with arts and humanities researchers. Alumni from the course have met with, and contributed to, teams and working groups in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Home Office, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), the Office of Communications (Ofcom) and the Department for Education. Some have been involved in the creation of new groups and centres, such as the Global Economics and History Forum, and the Centre for Research and Evidence on Security Threats (CREST). The result of these engagements has been the application of research skills to planning and public policy, as well as the creation of novel collaborative research projects involving academic researchers and government stakeholders.
I left the programme in March buzzing with ideas on how to develop the impact of my research on Scottish local government. The return of minority government in Scotland makes for a really open and accessible environment which is hopefully more open to research intelligence, both in government, opposition and parliamentary committees. I've already made contact with the new Local Government minister and the civil service lead on Community Empowerment.
In addition, I've begun to share some of the insights I gleaned from the programme with colleagues at my university. This has led, most notably, to my being associated as a policy adviser on the university’s new 'Standing Safe' campaign against campus sexual violence and ambivalent sexism. With my support in this role, the campaign has been brought to the attention of Parliament's Justice Committee, whose convenor intends to highlight the issue in its work programme in the coming session. We are also hoping to make it the subject of an early day motion, coinciding with the campaign's launch, and have attracted bipartisan support.
Many important decisions have now been devolved, and this opens up new opportunities for researchers to contribute their expertise to the formation of policy. Alumni report involvement at various levels in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, leading to the production of action plans for public policy, and of research that has informed parliamentary questions, submissions to the United Nations, and the advice delivered to devolved councils and committees.
Local services and practitioners
Research can influence services more directly by engaging with practitioners, whose experience can, in return, help to inform research. Alumni have developed research projects that incorporate a range of stakeholders, including local policy-makers, city councils, schools, probation services, media professionals and the third sector, in order to create positive change for children, older people and ex-offenders, among others.
Engaging beyond government and beyond the UK
Many alumni have applied what they have gained in the course to their core academic work, continuing to produce publications, exhibitions and conferences, alongside public engagement, advocacy, consultation and workshops at local, national and international levels, and advising lobby groups and charities on routes to engagement with government.
While many participants have stayed in academia and sought to apply their knowledge, expertise and skills to influence from there, others have followed career paths into the public sector and the third sector. Such opportunities allow them to deploy their research experience to policy development processes, and their experience from the ‘Engaging with Government’ course to exploring ways of making the research findings relevant and engaging with policy makers.
It is clear that, whatever path alumni have taken in their careers since participating in the programme, there is a huge amount of energy behind ensuring that the arts and humanities influence policy and practice at many levels.
Applications for the 2018/19 Engaging with Government Programme are now open, full details are on the call page.
The Institute for Government is an independent charity, working to increase government effectiveness by providing evidence-based advice and development opportunities, based on research and best practice from around the world. More information can be found through their website: www.instituteforgovernment.org.uk