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Enhancing regional policy-research collaboration in London and beyond

⌚ Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

Michelle Reeves

Senior Manager - Policy and Programmes at Greater London Authority

Dr Reeves’ Policy Fellowship at University College London Public Policy underscores the pivotal role of collaborative ventures between London’s universities and London government in addressing complex strategic issues facing the capital. Through the London Research and Policy Partnership (LRaPP), and similar initiatives nationwide, the stage is set for transformative advancements in evidence-based policymaking and regional development. Below, we chat to her about regional academic policy engagement in London and beyond.

CAPE: Can you share how your Policy Fellowship with UCL Public Policy came about, and what it focuses on?

I am Senior Manager of the Greater London Authority (GLA)’s Strategy team. In 2021, I co-founded the London Research and Policy Partnership (LRaPP) with Professor Ben Rogers at the University of London to foster strategic connections between London’s universities and London government. Applying to Capabilities in Academic Policy Engagement (CAPE), I secured two Policy Fellows who were embedded in GLA’s City Intelligence Unit to develop knowledge networks, and LRaPP’s brokerage service. Their work identified multiple methods for brokering effective relationships between academics and policymakers, but also uncovered challenges around different cultures, and ways of working. The Policy Fellows were able to test some of these brokerage approaches through an extension to their policy fellowship.

Whilst working with CAPE at UCL, I expressed interest in working within an academic context as a policymaker to raise visibility of the London Research and Policy Partnership (LRaPP) by engaging with different policy research centres at UCL to understand how they work, and to test further brokerage mechanisms, such as Areas of Research Interest (ARIs) and their potential impact on regional policymaking. I successfully applied to the Greater London Authority’s Strategy & Communications Fund for Learning to support the policy fellowship.

How has your understanding of UCL’s policy research centres evolved, and what issues did you find impacted research-policy engagement?

UCL has a number of policy research centres. This includes UCL Public Policy itself, which facilitates engagement between academic researchers and public policy professionals to develop evidence-based policies. The Department of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Public Policy (STEaPP) mobilises expertise to address societal challenges, whilst the International Public Policy Observatory (IPPO) disseminates global evidence for policy practice in the UK. UCL’s Policy Lab fosters collaboration to address challenges globally and the Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose (IIPP) aims to redefine public value to tackle societal challenges effectively. All of these centres share a common commitment to leveraging research and expertise to address pressing societal issues, fostering collaboration, and promoting evidence-based policymaking, both locally and globally.

Academics in these centres expressed a keen interest in fostering a collaborative environment for applied research and emphasised the need for better recognition of the value of policy research within universities. Researchers noted that aligning their research with policy demand and making visible its potential influence and contribution to policy development and impact, would be essential in making the case for regional research-policy engagement. They also highlighted the importance of re-evaluating promotion structures within universities. Managing expectations, implementing efficient engagement strategies, and defining the London Research and Policy Partnership (LRaPP)’s role as a convener for diverse institutions, are considered necessary prerequisites for advancing this collaborative way of working.

How do you envision Areas of Research Interest (ARIs) impacting regional research-policy collaboration?

Areas of Research Interest (ARI) are widely used by governmental bodies to bridge evidence and knowledge gaps. As strategic tools, the use of ARIs has proven effective in broadening engagement, facilitating collaboration, and enhancing the policy-research interface[1]. While challenges remain, such as resource constraints and cultural gaps between research and policy, the development of tools like the ARI database offers promising opportunities to further improve collaboration and evidence-based decision-making.

However, there has been little use of them regionally. Through my fellowship, I am piloting the use of an ARI focused on just transition to net zero and retrofitting London’s homes. The aim is to develop a unified regional research agenda around these pressing policy priorities that has the buy-in of all key interested parties working on retrofit delivery. Emerging areas of focus identified in partner consultations include developing energy service agreements, addressing legal challenges around implementing retrofit, understanding retrofit supply chains, skill requirements, and building performance standards. The consultations also identified a need for rapid evidence to inform project and programme delivery. I am therefore exploring how ARI methodology can be adapted to respond to this need.

Are there similar partnerships to the London Research and Policy Partnership (LRaPP) across the UK? How might they influence academic-policy engagement?

Yes, partnerships like Insights North East, Yorkshire and Humberside Policy Engagement and Research Network (Y-PERN) and West Midlands Regional Economic Development Institute (WM-REDI), are exploring different approaches to regional policy engagement. A roundtable held by CAPE with the partnerships last September 2023, highlighted untapped potential nationwide. It identified building a collective national agenda, and flexible operating models as key to amplifying the value of regional academic-policy engagement.

Read the CAPE report from this roundtable: Building a national agenda for regional academic policy engagement.

Your collaboration with London's universities seems to suggest that working in this way could be impactful. How has your experience been so far?

Working with the Greater London Authority-CAPE Fellows to develop a growth model for the London Research and Policy Partnership (LRaPP)[2], and with UCL Public Policy has been enriching. Universities are eager to partner with London government to tackle London’s challenges, making full use of their multifaceted roles as research engines, educators, employers, anchor institutions, and centres of R & D and innovation.

Through my fellowship, I am working on a joint project with King’s College London to address educational inequality. I have also co-convened a roundtable with London’s Violence Reduction Unit, involving academics across multiple disciplines, from UCL, City University, Goldsmiths, and the University of Central Lancashire to help define research questions and identify key concerns around social media and violence to help shape interventions to address online harms.

These partnerships hold immense potential for scaling London government initiatives, as well as fostering innovative and actionable approaches to policy, project, and programme delivery for the benefit of Londoners.