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Dr Arlene Holmes-Henderson

28 June 2023, 1:49 UTC Share

Reflections on my first UPEN Conference

In this blog, Dr Arlene Holmes-Henderson, Vice-Chair for UPEN (Arts and Humanities) reflects on going to her first UPEN Annual Conference which took place in Birmingham June 2023.

My journey to the University of Birmingham’s Exchange conference was an uplifting one. As a former Classics teacher, I was impressed by the concentration of neoclassical buildings in the immediate environs of the venue. This would be an ideal place, I mused, to enliven the teaching and learning of ancient architecture such as doric, ionic and corinthian columns, as well as pediments, metopes and arches.

The Humanities bring wider perspectives to contemporary societal issues. When I entered the UPEN conference, my historical reflections on the reception of the ancient world in Birmingham’s place-based identity came face-to-face with a focus on the future of knowledge mobilisation. In my work I regularly use ideas from the past to think about the future and have led several projects doing this with public policy partners but, for me, there were three key take-aways the UPEN conference:

Learning more about knowledge mobilisation from colleagues whose roles are in policy facilitation and impact.

As an academic, I learned a great deal from the panel on local, regional and devolved policy engagement. The speakers all held facilitating roles to improve policy thinking through engagement with academic research. It became clear that some areas of the country are better supported than others (Y-PERN and Insights North East sounded brilliant!). I hope that UPEN will optimise its networking role to broaden access to such expertise for academic colleagues whose research services teams do not include any designated policy engagement support.

Chief Scientific Advisors
Chief Scientific Advisors work part-time. I appreciated the colourful insight into ‘a day in the life’ of Sarah Sharples, CSA at the Department for Transport and Russell Viner, CSA at the Department for Education. I had no idea that these posts were part-time and that postholders continued to conduct research during their tenure. This gave me a new insight into knowledge mobilisation and made me wonder whether colleagues with an Arts and Humanities background might consider such a role in future.

Policy Engagement Support Funding
As a British Academy Innovation Fellow and UPEN Vice-Chair, I was particularly pleased to hear Sarah Cowan from the British Academy and Ian Stanton from AHRC discuss funding opportunities for promoting policy engagement with Arts and Humanities research. I think there is work to do on both sides, here, to raise the profile of policy engagement as a desirable activity for academics, and to demonstrate the value of Arts and Humanities research to policy officials. I left the conference with the remit to create a range of case studies of recent, successful examples which will be shared with civil servants via the Policy Profession and with researchers via the British Academy.

We will achieve much more if we work together. This conference was a superb example of knowledge mobilisation in and of itself and I very much look forward to working with the UPEN Co-Chairs and my fellow Vice-Chairs to maintain the momentum.

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