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

07 October 2019, 10:25 UTC Share

Carving out the time to take a step back

Like most of those reading this blog, the Centre for Science and Policy (CSaP) at the University of Cambridge has spent a fair amount of time considering and trialling methods of brokering relations between academics and policy makers.

Timing remains one of the key hurdles in generating policy impact from academia. Not just being able to get evidence to the right person at the right time, or getting input from an end user before your academic grant application deadline, but also the time to step back from the deadlines and talk through big picture issues. This opportunity is so rare that the vast majority of our Policy Fellows – policy professionals who we match with academics who can help tackle their policy questions – agree with the statement that spending time meeting with academics provided them with the ‘chance to step back and see the bigger picture’, which is seen as incredibly valuable.

One aspect of the rollercoaster that is Brexit – putting aside all the very real consequences – that has been fascinating is the variety of ways in which academics have meaningfully and helpfully contributed to the debate. For example, academics have worked through the summer and beyond to advise legal parties, as well as having shared their insights with the public through media interviews and online platforms. And, at a recent CSaP Policy Workshop, we had the unique opportunity to assemble academic and policy stakeholders to do some of the deep thinking that can be lost in the sharp timelines of political upheaval. This Policy Workshop was entitled ‘The Brexit effect: institutional inheritance and adaptation’ and was spearheaded by Professor Kenneth Armstrong, Professor of European Law, and his Leverhulme Trust Major Research Fellowship. The workshop sought to unpack some of the practical and normative impacts of Brexit on domestic regulators, in a wider context than just the Brexit referendum, and explored opportunities for overall changes. As was noted about the working paper Professor Armstrong had provided in advance of the Policy Workshop, the big picture questions he asked were the sort of questions many policy makers would love to tackle, but that their workload does not often permit.

These Policy Workshops last about half a day. They tackle one stated policy challenge, and bring together stakeholders from policy, academia and industry to apply their expertise to the question at hand. The workshops combine facilitated roundtables with opportunities for continued discussion and networking over the course of dinner and drinks. Usually we are commissioned to prepare a report. The policy questions which trigger the Policy Workshops can be brought to us by policy makers or academics, but the questions are inevitably shaped by both the policy and the academic landscapes.

One of our Policy Workshop case studies is from Dr Mark Bale’s Policy Workshop (2015) on intellectual property and genomic medicine, about which Dr Bale said: ‘The connections made during my Policy Fellowship, and a Policy Workshop held in partnership with the Centre for Law, Medicine and Life Sciences at Cambridge, helped us deliver a huge new government priority on genomics.’ There can also be many, and more subtle ways, that taking the time away from your desk can be beneficial. But whether it’s a workshop, a Policy Fellowship, a lecture or another format, we think that the carving out precious time to take a step back and consider the big pictures in in a considered format with the right expertise is an important part of the brokerage services we offer.

Here’s to having more time to take a step back.

Lauren Milden is a policy adviser at CSaP. Her mandate is to support academics to develop their policy impact activities.

Lauren previously spent three years as the Policy Coordinator at the Cambridge Institute of Public Health, and prior to that worked in lobbying and crisis communications in London.

Lauren Milden, Policy Adviser, Centre for Science and Policy 

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