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’:
• Targeting(s): to the right audience
• Translation : getting the message(s) across
• Timing : at the right time
• Tools : using the most effective channels
• Talk to people : build connections, networks and relationships
Underlying these principles is the importance of being clear about the impact goals that colleagues want their research to achieve.
One of the ways that we support academics is through the provision of a support & travel award scheme, funding that colleagues can apply for to enhance their policy engagement activities. We’d like to showcase some examples of recent activities that we have been pleased to support, spanning local, national and international policy influence, showing how the five Ts have been used.
Bristol Forum is a new collaboration, inspired by the One City Approach, between the Bristol City Office and Universities of Bristol & West of England. An event held in March 2019 aimed to advance the problem-solving capacity of our city by bringing together innovative research and creative approaches to raise questions and address challenges relevant to the city and its vibrant communities. Workshops drew in councillors, the public, researchers, business leaders, charities and NGOs to discuss challenges such as homelessness, changing the city’s economy, loneliness, and air quality. In a blog post following the event Bristol’s Mayor, Marvin Rees, said, ‘For me, the Forum is about bringing the intellectual fire power of our City Region’s two world class universities to bear on our city challenges. Most importantly, it is also about ensuring that the policy decisions we make as a city are underpinned by a clear evidence base.’ We are looking forward to seeing how the conversations and new connections made will be used to inform Bristol’s One City Plan.
(Re)Thinking Trans Healthcare: Bridging the Gap between Policy, Practitioner and Patient
Transgender rights have been a salient policy issue in recent years. In response to this, Dr Peter Dunne from UoB Law School organised an interdisciplinary conference on the provision of transgender healthcare in England and Wales in March 2019 . Attended by 125 individuals (with 100 more on the waiting list) including policy-makers, clinicians, service-users, service providers and researchers, speakers also reflected a range of perspectives. The conference focused on engaging local policymakers such as NHS leads, and the programme combined plenary talks and workshop discussions which enabled exchange of views and ideas on the social, legal, medical and ethical issues. Useful contacts were made with local and national health bodies as well as charities, who will be taking the research into policy and practice in the future.
International engagement at a US Nuclear Conference
Building long term and trusting relationships with colleagues who have both influence and interest over the research recommendations is an underpinning principle of policy engagement. To this end, we funded Prof Philip Thomas to attend a US conference on low dose radiation, where he presented his work on calculating the value of a human life, supported by a policy report we helped to produce. The conference led to further invitations to key events, and meaningful conversations with industry and regulatory colleagues from around the world.
The value of a face to face meeting
Not all our funding applications are for large projects – sometimes all that’s needed is some funding for travel to meet the right people. For example, Dr Cheryl McQuire was able to attend a DHSC roundtable in London, and to meet a Welsh Assembly Member in Cardiff, to discuss the recommendations from her research related to Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder diagnosis, prevention and intervention. Both meetings have led to further introductions and potential policy impact.
Evaluating our own impact
Policy engagement is a slippery endeavour; the complexity of policy making processes mean there is no guarantee of an outcome, no matter how well planned (or executed) activities are. A recent review (Oliver and Cairney, 2019) found that policy engagement advice is, on the whole, not evidence informed (the irony!) – as a team we are looking at how we can evaluate the impact of our own activities and would welcome contact from others who are considering the same question.
Find out more about PolicyBristol
Dr Lindsey Pike is PolicyBristol Associate at the University of Bristol.