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Lauren Milden

09 April 2019, 4:52 UTC Share

Ten lessons for policy engagement

The Centre for Science and Policy (CSaP) is part of the University of Cambridge and its mission is to improve public policy through the more effective use of evidence and expertise. We do this by creating opportunities for public policy professionals and academics to learn from each other. Since CSaP was founded in July 2009, we’ve learnt a few things! So, in anticipation of CSaP’s 10th anniversary, we thought we’d share ten lessons from our journey.

1. Dare to be different: When CSaP was created, it did not take the shape that some might have expected. To the horror of their colleagues, CSaP had no intention of conducting research or publishing in journals (prestigious or otherwise)! Instead, CSaP wanted to broker. And they wanted to have a dedicated events team.

2. Don’t be afraid to trial new programmes : CSaP’s novel approach paid off, and it continues to evolve by trialling new programmes. Having a good sense of what is worth trying, and a plan for how to trial them, is key. Successful trials that we’ve kept include our Policy Fellowship programme, our Policy Workshops, and offering academics tailored services which can be built into their grant applications.

3. Understand the importance of brokerage : Fittingly, CSaP’s current approach was inspired by investing in identifying relevant stakeholders and meeting with them one to one to see what structure CSaP should embrace. CSaP now facilitates such stakeholder meetings, primarily through our Policy Fellowships programme, through which decision-makers from policy and industry apply with their burning policy questions. CSaP then organises 25-30 one-to-one meetings for the Policy Fellows with academics and industry experts from the University of Cambridge and beyond. For an LSE Impact Blog on the Policy Fellowships Programme click here.

4. Identify demand : As most of us who have worked in knowledge exchange know, one of the most frequent pieces of advice passed around is for academics to talk to their stakeholders before finalising their research questions. CSaP strives to respond to policy needs, and to help academics engage with those drivers, as well. We do this by listening to our network of policy and industry professionals, inviting them to commission Policy Workshops and Policy Fellowships, linking up policymakers and academics, strengthening networks that can be leveraged during tight timelines, and using our contacts and insights to help shape academics’ Pathways to Impact sections. Policy impact is not linear, and we help facilitate the conversations that can help shape it.

5. Embrace the tech: Early on, CSaP invested in a bespoke customer relationship management database that continues to serve us well. We have records of several thousand academics and policy makers, questions posed by policy makers and dates of one-to-one meetings and other events. We continue to explore new ways in which we can more efficiently help connect policy makers and academics.

6. Foster relationships : More important than the tech are the people. Our Policy Fellowships programme, for example, works because academics find the meetings useful, stimulating and enjoyable enough to invest their very limited time in attending them. Equally, our Policy Fellows wouldn’t give us such high ratings if they didn’t value the conversations they were having. For example, the latest feedback from our Policy Fellows shows that:

o 100% got chance to step back and see bigger picture
o 90% gained fresh perspectives on current work
o 73% improved their network of contacts
o 27% reported direct impacts on policy making process

Our activities work because participants understand that policy challenges require a variety of experts to effectively address them.

7. Embrace multidisciplinary work : Common feedback from Policy Fellows is that the meetings that seemed the least relevant at first blush (‘why would you make me meet with someone from philosophy/computer science/ [insert that field you do not understand]?!’) were the most impactful in shaping the way they saw their policy questions.

8. Grow your network : At the time of writing, CSaP has hosted over 350 Policy Fellows and orchestrated over 9,000 meetings. We have over 1600 researchers in our network, and we’ve hosted over 200 events. As a University of Cambridge Centre, we are also growing our Affiliate Network, which extends Policy Fellowships to other UK partner universities, helping to unlock further expertise. This robust and ever-growing network allows us to help forge relevant relationships in a timely manner.

9. Celebrate success ! : You are warmly invited to come celebrate with us while meeting policy professionals, academics and brokers at our Annual Conference on 26 June in London. Whether you want to hear from Leslie Evans, Permanent Secretary to the Scottish Government, or hear from experts on the impact of AI, existential risks or urban spaces, please do sign up here. We hope to see you there. We can also promise a lovely drinks reception!

10. Keep learning : We are looking forward to continuing to innovate in order to improve public policy through the more effective use of evidence and expertise, including by benefitting from UPEN.

Lauren Milden is Policy Adviser at the Centre for Science and Policy at the University of Cambridge.

Author: Lauren Milden, Policy Adviser, Centre for Science and Policy, University of Cambridge

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