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Why UPEN?

When policy makers have needed expertise in the past they have always been able to get it.

In a world before knowledge brokers Government and Parliament could do a number of things to access knowledge. It could follow the money and speak to relevant funders. It could seek out the eminent through the Royal Colleges. Or it could simply use the often informal networks to speak to a trusted colleague somewhere (though usually from the golden triangle) within the Academy. So why do we need knowledge brokerage teams and why do we need UPEN?

In a word, diversity. Diversity of opinion, diversity of institution, diversity of age, gender and race. In addition to legal safeguards against discrimination of protected characteristics the Equality Act 2010 ushered in an era of greater receptiveness to the importance of a diverse set of voices contributing to the national dialogue. Government Departments, Agencies and Parliaments are all keenly aware that the same old faces are no longer acceptable when considering new or scrutinising existing policy. Rather than simply speak to a trusted few, the business of understanding must take place in an open and transparent manner that welcomes the widest possible range of voices. So how is Government and Parliament supposed to reach this diverse collection of voices?

Knowledge brokers by definition know their academics. We understand who are the rising stars who - given right incentives and opportunities – will be suitably tenacious to stick with the process of engaging with a changing cast of civil servants, politicians and priorities. Utilising this rich and detailed knowledge of our institutions we can offer Government and Parliament access to people within the Academy that would not have been visible otherwise. UPEN offers a new opportunity for Government and Parliament to access brilliant PhD students or exceptional Early Career Researchers in institutions across the United Kingdom, which previously was simply too time consuming or challenging to do.

As we reach ‘peak REF2021’ institutions can now begin to consider what policy engagement activities have been successful in this cycle. Knowledge brokers can take stock of the structures and cultures which have fostered our policy engagement successes. Many of our knowledge brokerage teams were established during this cycle, each taking an institutionally site specific approach as to how to best support evidence-informed policy and research enriched by policy engagement. Casting forward to REF2028 (in whatever form it takes) our brokerages should now be in a planning mode, identifying the individuals, tools and structures required to deliver the four star impact case studies of the next REF cycle. This planning involves making the case within our institutions to recognise, celebrate and reward this type of academic engagement. In the sector our brokerages can collectively work through UPEN to advocate for the incentives required from UKRI to fund our work. Within Government and Parliament UPEN can demonstrate its utility by working with evidence demand mechanisms such as Areas of Research Interest or Parliamentary Inquiries to deliver a diversity of opinion to a new Government as it attempts to deliver on its manifesto pledges and to a historically large new intake of MPs keen to establish themselves via select committees.

Whether this is responding to a Department’s Area of Research Interest, a Government Consultation or a Parliamentary Inquiry UPEN’s knowledge brokers can provide policymakers with a diversity of opinion previously impossible to achieve. For our rising academic stars we can provide the contacts, opportunities and tools to enrich their research and make meaningful change with their work.


Gareth Giles is head of Public Policy|Southampton, the University of Southampton’s public policy research facility.

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Posted 18/02/2020 17:29

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