We want to understand the enablers and barriers to delivering effective policy engagement training and professional development offers at CAPE partner universities. Through a series of interviews and focus groups, we sought to learn how training and other professional development activities dedicated to policy engagement are currently being designed, commissioned and administered – and identified areas for further collaboration and development. We outline our findings below.
Across universities within the UK, there has been a lot of investment into activities that support learning on how to engage with policy. From training to mentoring schemes, formal professional development courses to informal peer learning approaches, there is an increased push for researchers and professional services staff to demonstrate that they have the knowledge, skills and attitudes needed to engage with a range of policy environments and audiences. For example, the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) has published open access resources on engaging with Parliament as a researcher, the Institute for Government (IFG) delivers seminars, workshops and bespoke programmes for engaging with policy, and universities have designed and delivered their own in-house provision to meet this demand.
Yet there remains limited evidence of what actually works when it comes to policy engagement activities, nor how training and other professional development opportunities might intersect with the unique geographic and political contexts across different institutions. What can universities learn from each other about how policy engagement training and professional development opportunities are designed, delivered and incentivised? And how might these offers be developed or adapted to reflect the unique needs of university personnel? According to University College London “investing in the people who “support connectivity” is vital if the UK is to maximise the social return on its investment in research”.
What have we found so far?
At the individual and team level
- At the individual and team level
- Academics and researchers benefit from peer learning and group networking and sharing experiences between peers is valuable.
- University staff often aren’t aware of the policy engagement training materials available to them.
- Policy engagement support is often responsive to the demand of people who are already interested, rather than focussed on outreach to those not yet engaged.
- Self-guided online modules allow time-constrained researchers and professional services staff alike to learn when it suits them best. However, staff find value not only in signposting to resources, but also bespoke policy engagement advice or support, and external facilitation.
- There is a need for reflection on the role of the researcher within the policy engagement process and consideration of how different individuals can be supported throughout the process.