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£3.9m awarded to national collaboration to support academic engagement with public policy

Research England has awarded almost £4m to a consortium of universities to explore ways of improving academic-policy engagement. Capabilities in Academic-Policy Engagement (CAPE) is a partnership between UCL and the universities of Cambridge, Manchester, Nottingham and Northumbria, as well as Parliament, Government and policy organisations.

As the Covid-19 pandemic has demonstrated, the need for reliable evidence which can inform public debate and policy has never been greater. With increasing pressure on public finances, it is also vital that local and central governments can be confident that their policy interventions will be effective and successful – and academic expertise has a crucial role to play in that process.

The 3-year Capabilities in Academic-Policy Engagement (CAPE) project aims to foster and support academic engagement with policy professionals, and enable greater understanding and cooperation between universities, national government, parliament and regional and local authorities.

CAPE will be delivered with input and support from the Parliamentary Office for Science & Technology, the Government Office for Science, the Alliance for Useful Evidence, and the Transforming Evidence hub.

In addition to the £3.9m funding from Research England, partner institutions will be contributing further resource, bringing the total value of the project to nearly £10m. The project will support academic-policy engagement at scale and, crucially, the project will engage universities and policy stakeholders from across England. This will ensure a greater balance in the interests and expertise represented and ensure the project is addressing issues of policy beyond Westminster, to reflect the diversity of England’s communities.

The project will pilot a range of interventions to improve the quality of academic input into public policy, enabling universities to respond to emerging and pressing questions in an agile, targeted way. By working in partnership, it is hoped that both researchers and policy professionals will be able to connect experts in their field more quickly, and co-develop effective interventions based on reliable evidence. 

The project will develop a range of evidence-based tools and resources to support academic-policy engagement and establish a virtual Centre for Universities and Public Policy to provide a collaborative platform for networking and sharing knowledge. 

Professor David Price, UCL Vice-Provost (Research) and Principal Investigator, said: “University research can offer a wealth of insight to inform complex policy questions. But neither universities nor policymakers are currently engaging as effectively as we might to ensure the translation of academic expertise into the policy sphere. I am delighted that UCL now has the opportunity, through this partnership, to explore the most effective ways of supporting and enabling academic-policy engagement and strengthening the links between universities and government at all levels.”

Sarah Chaytor, UCL Director of Research Strategy and Policy and project co-lead, added: “By addressing the existing barriers between universities and public policy organisations at a range of levels and working in close partnership across the project and with a wider network, we will be able to build our understanding of ‘what works’ in academic-policy engagement and how universities and policy stakeholders can work together to tackle national and regional policy problems.”

Dr Olivia Stevenson, UCL Head of Public Policy and project co-lead, stated: “The CAPE project takes seriously the need to increase and include diversity of thought, people and places in academic-policy engagement. By doing so CAPE will be able to develop a deeper knowledge base of how the world of academia and public policy can work more effectively together to deliver significant real-world benefits.” 

Professor George Marston, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation) at Northumbria University, said: “In the current environment, it is more important than ever that policy – both local and national – is developed by government in a way that is supported by robust evidence.  Universities can and do play a critical role in providing this evidence base.  This area of research is of strategic importance to Northumbria University,  and I am absolutely delighted therefore to see the success of this partnership of leading research universities and policy makers, which will lead to a step change in academic-policy engagement.”

Professor Matt Baillie Smith, co-director of Northumbria University’s Centre for International Development, is leading the University’s involvement in the project. He said: “We are really excited to be part of this very important initiative. As we face the social, economic and environmental challenges of Covid-19, local, nationally and internationally, universities have a key role to play in supporting the development of the policies and approaches that are needed to cope and to re-build. Through the CAPE project, Northumbria will bring together its extensive local partnerships and networks, and research on processes of global development and social and environmental change, to foster knowledge exchanges that meet the new challenges we face. We are looking forward to working with UCL, Manchester, Cambridge and Nottingham Universities in this timely and important project, and to the important changes it will bring to academic policy engagement.”

Professor Andrew Westwood, Professor of Government Practice and Vice Dean for Social Responsibility in the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Manchester, said: “This is a really exciting and timely project that has been long in planning. More than ever we are convinced that academic-policy engagement needs to be strengthened and that a more systemic approach will improve understanding and outcomes on both sides. Covid-19 has shone a light on existing processes and systems but now we need to extend relationships across all areas of academia not least as we begin to think about building an economic and social recovery from the pandemic. The four year project will look specifically at policymaking in Westminster and Whitehall and also at cities and regions with GMCA alongside GO Science and the Parliamentary Office for Science as Technology as a key partner.”

Stephen Meek, Director of the University of Nottingham’s Institute for Policy and Engagement said: “Good policy has always needed good evidence, but there is remarkably little evidence for the best ways to link policymakers with researchers.  I am delighted that the University of Nottingham will be part of this ground-breaking programme to identify what works and develop a more consistent, evidence-based approach.  With the relationship between policy and evidence often leading the news, this work couldn’t be more urgent.”

Nicola Buckley, Associate Director of the Centre for Science and Policy at the University of Cambridge said: ‘We are delighted to be working with UCL and the universities of Manchester, Nottingham and Northumbria to develop further ways of making interactions between policy makers and academics happen. We look forward to consulting with local and national government colleagues about the important topics regarding which we can offer collaboration.’