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Strengthening academic policy engagement in West Yorkshire

CAPE is looking to understand how universities can mobilise their research findings and capabilities by working with local and regional authorities in order to enhance evidence-informed policymaking. CAPE’s West Yorkshire Policy Fellow was established in the context of West Yorkshire’s changing political landscape: the establishment of the region’s first Mayor.  

Through the fellowship, we are exploring how embedding knowledge brokerage within new political infrastructure can support place-based policy making processes, especially regarding the regions’ economic recovery from the impacts of the pandemic. In particular, CAPE is looking at how the fellow can enable linkages and engagement with West Yorkshire Combined Authority, local authorities, West Yorkshire universities and the Place-Based Economic Recovery Network (PERN) to delivery policy processes and outcomes that are driven by and support the regions’ communities.

We asked our CAPE policy fellow, Dr Richard Whittle, to reflect on what’s happened to date in his first 6 (of 12 months) in post.

Richard Whittle

CAPE Policy Fellow

A bit about me

I’m Dr Richard Whittle, an economist with a background in behavioural and computer science. I’m particularly interested in public policy formation and its evidence based, including the role of Artificial Intelligence in Public Policy, understanding of online communities and approaches to financing and investment. Broadly my research encompasses the impact of technology on society. Previously I led the MSc Taxation and Fiscal Policy developed with HMRC for Senior Civil Servants and recently led the review of the retail economy for the Greater Manchester Independent Prosperity Review. My latest research, funded by the ESRC Productivity Insights Network, investigates the future of retail in West Yorkshire.

West Yorkshire has the potential for meaningful and long-lasting academic policy engagement infrastructure

I was awarded a CAPE fellowship in July 2021 working with Yorkshire Universities, the Place-based Economic Recovery Network (PERN) and the West Yorkshire Combined Authority, to lead an innovative project tasked with strengthening the use and application of university research to inform public policy in West Yorkshire. This got off to a rapid start and on my first day I received my second Covid vaccination and presented to the West Yorkshire Economic Recovery Board on the implications of C-19 on the future of retail in the region. This was a clear indication of how this fellowship would progress. The academic policy engagement infrastructure in West Yorkshire developed by Yorkshire Universities has the potential to be deep, meaningful and long-lasting and the CAPE fellowship is increasingly key in this process.

Place-based networks are strengthening engagement

The key vehicle in strengthening academic policy engagement in West-Yorkshire is the Place-Based Economic Recovery Network (PERN). PERN is an academic led, multi-university network of experts in place based economic recovery, regeneration and resilience. It was established to offer support to West Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority, Leeds City Region Local Enterprise Partnership, and other public bodies, such as local authorities in the design, plan and implementation of COVID recovery efforts.

PERN is a single body with an academic representative from each of the 7 West-Yorkshire Universities and provides multi-dimensional and multi-disciplinary perspectives. It acts as a direct source of reference for the Combined and Local Authorities as well as support for the CAPE fellowship. Via the fellowship, PERN have been invited to engage with numerous policy makers and policy professionals at many levels within West-Yorkshire. PERN has developed evidence and engaged meaningfully with policy in several aspects of economic recovery, the safety of women and girls, regional tax policy, skills development, innovation mapping and much more. Crucially several impactful policy co-creation relationships have been established supporting policy professionals and academic research impact.

We are shifting towards regional policy engagement

rior to the fellowship starting, the academic policy engagement culture was strong, especially between a university and its local government, though usually a function of relationships between a small number of academics and policy professionals. The fellowship has helped facilitate policy engagement between the West-Yorkshire University Sector and regional policy in general. This is a key shift in supporting evidence based policy in West-Yorkshire.

“Dr Richard Whittle is playing a crucial role in building on the initial building blocks designed to strengthen academic research and policy engagement in West Yorkshire, principally through the West Mayoral Combined Authority. Research and evidence is seen increasingly as essential to informing and shaping effective policy and strategy in West Yorkshire in the areas of local and regional development, social mobility, policy and crime strategy, economic intelligence and foresight.”

Dr Pete O’Brien, Executive Director of Yorkshire Universities

The fellowship has also embraced and developed a number of initiatives for academic policy engagement including directly funded research, roundtables with selected academic experts and relevant policy leads, the creation of expert directories, evidence submissions and representation on numerous policy committees. Above all however is the facilitation of trusted partnerships and academic policy relationships developing a longer term cultural shift in academic policy engagement. The fellowship provides an important conduit and stable point of contact between the multiple policy and academic actors in West Yorkshire.

Our outputs and what we're looking towards

PERN have supported a workstream examining ‘the barriers to working class participation in policy making’ and expect the first piece of academic research in this stream to be available shortly. This will be accompanied by a succession of policy engagement measures bringing the PERN academic community together in a vitally important issue and supporting evidence based policy development

PERN, Yorkshire Universities and this fellowship is making a considerable impact in numerous and varied areas, bringing together academics, policy makers and policy professionals to inform and co-create policy. For example working in collaboration with the Combined Authority, PERN has commissioned an academic evidence review examining the safety of women and girls in West Yorkshire.  This ongoing policy engagement is led by researchers from the None In Three Research Centre based at the University of Huddersfield and is a key demonstration of PERN supporting academic policy engagement.

Fellowships deepen understanding of how to connect with policy

My CAPE fellowship has had a huge positive impact on my development as a policy focussed academic, I have far greater insight into the policy making process and its evidence base enabling the strengthening of my research and its own impact. I would urge every academic who researches a policy relevant area to consider a fellowship working with policy making institutions to really understand how they can connect with policy.