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Rich Pickford

23 November 2021, 2:27 UTC Share

Dispelling Apprehension and Promoting Energy for academics to work with policymakers

How do you get colleagues to recognise their broad skills and knowledge based and to translate it beyond academia?

That was the question on my mind whilst I was exchanging a flurry of emails about a new internal pot of money that had been announced in November 2019. The university wanted to test and learn from quick turnaround knowledge exchange projects. Alongside a colleague, who had been seconded to work within the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) to bring her professional and academic skills to bear on pressing challenges they face, we were motivated to help answer the call.

At Nottingham Civic Exchange I am always exploring how we can help support colleagues to share their skills and expertise with people, organisations and communities and how those same groups can engage with us to challenge our assumptions.

My colleague on secondment was dealing with a multitude of requests for advice and guidance on how to deal with often highly sensitive and challenging issues. We both knew that our academic colleagues could help if we could find a way to bring them into the space and support them to deliver. But a system to help hadn’t been developed.

Building from our shared understanding and the requirements of the call, we developed a programme that would both deliver on translating academic knowledge and skills into policy results and act as a rolling development tool for our colleagues. In about a week Developing Academic Policy Engagement (DAPE) was born and by the end of November we were told we had secured support to make it happen.

The next few months were a bit of a whirlwind for the three teams we brought together. An open call was put out to academics across our School of Social Science and a matching process was undertaken to help connect the expressions of interest from our colleagues with the broad policy area suggestions put forward by our policy partners. Following 1-1s with each academic, research associate and each policy lead, we brought everyone together (online) in December to outline the programme and help firm up the challenges they would be exploring. DAPE is designed to connect an Nottingham Trent University (NTU) academic, a PhD candidate or research assistant (named by us as Research Associate and given even stature they were given in the project) with a policy professional. In the first version of DAPE, we had three teams to test the process. At the kick-off event, we gave a clear timeline, suggested processes for engagement and time to talk with each other about expectations. Alongside policy colleagues, we shared our experiences and those of the evidence team in the MoJ to help focus people’s attention on the scale and achievability of the projects they would develop together.

Once we had introduced each other to the teams we ran another online training session with NTU colleagues to further detail the process and set out examples of the sorts of outputs they could create in the 3-month timeframe they had to work with. This helped to dispel several myths: “do I need to write a 10,000-word peer-reviewed output for this?”, “how much original research needs to be included?” “is a poster and summary report going to be enough?” Our sessions were about providing encouragement and a framework to unlock the vast knowledge within all six NTU staff and to help them map out as a team how they were going to approach the broad topic the policy leads had suggested.

The short-term nature of the project and the specificity of the project topics helped colleagues to hone in on particular aspects of the questions raised by policy colleagues and through supported conversations identify exactly who and how these insights would be used. This allowed them to create relevant and actionable material which has already begun to help make a difference within MoJ.

We were fortunate to also employ a fourth member of staff to review and evaluate the project and are in the process of writing this project up for academic publication. A mini-guide for DAPE was also created and the outputs from colleagues which have been shared across the MoJ are also live on NCEs news pages for all to see.

We are about to embark on DAPE 2.1 and 2.2 with two separate parts of the MoJ based on the successful delivery of our pilot. Learning from our participants has helped to further enhance the project but for me the key learning has been to ensure you provide the confidence and support to colleagues on both sides of the academic and policy divide to meet, explore ideas and take forward projects that create tangible mutual benefits for all.

Rich Pickford is the Knowledge Exchange and Impact Officer at Nottingham Trent University’s Nottingham Civic Exchange. He takes the lead on facilitating connections between researchers, communities, business and citizens and maximising the impact of Nottingham Civic Exchange’s work.

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