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Arlene Holmes-Henderson

11 January 2024, 8:21 UTC Share

Building Collaborations between Academics and Policymakers: a focus on Languages

By Arlene Holmes-Henderson, Professor of Classics Education and Public Policy at Durham University and UPEN Vice Chair (Arts and Humanities)

workshop held at the Institute of Languages, Cultures and Societies, organised by Professor Wendy Ayres-Bennett, brought together languages researchers and policymakers in October 2023 to explore potential collaborative opportunities.

The difficulties of establishing and maintaining effective collaboration between these constituencies are well known. Wendy opened the workshop by saying that languages are ‘everywhere and nowhere in government’. On the one hand, there is a wealth of academic research and expertise on languages which could help inform and shape policymaking. A 2018 Institute for Government report on ‘How government can work with academia’ noted that “Most policy officials feel they do not have time to engage with academics. When they do, they often struggle to find relevant research.” Transfer of research findings on language(s) is working reasonably well in the case of the Department for Education, but less well, or not at all, in the case of other ministries and departments. On the other hand, academics are producing research without a clear idea of how, or indeed whether, it might be useful for government.

The need to show ‘impact’ has increased the imperative on academics to engage with government and other stakeholders. One of the key issues is uncertainty about channels of communication, and there is a need for transparency on both sides. Another is the absence of reference to languages in the government’s areas of research interests (ARIs), although some of the high-level concepts mentioned such as ‘community cohesion’, ‘understanding soft power between others’ and ‘reducing inequalities’ clearly have language dimensions to them. More details about how the ARIs relate to languages could, on the one hand, help researchers to design – or better co-create – research projects in the light of government priorities and, on the other hand, enable policymakers to receive the research-informed evidence which would be invaluable to them.

The workshop included presentations from members of the x-Government Languages Group about the research needs of their respective departments as well as case studies by researchers in languages who are at different stages in their engagement with national and devolved governments. As Vice-Chair of UPEN, I explained how our network can support both the research and policy communities. The majority of attendees were previously unfamiliar with UPEN. Following the event, new collaborations have already emerged. The power of convening is strong!

To read the report from the event, please visit:

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