A couple of weeks ago I got about as close to Whitehall (the entity, not the place) as I’ve ever been. The ‘Engaging with Government’ workshop, run by the AHRC and Institute for Government, gives early-career researchers the opportunity to learn how to use research to contribute to policymaking.
Over the course of three intense days, fifteen of us met think tank leaders, civil servants and academics that shared their experiences of working in, or with, government to develop policy. Of course, in a time and resource-poor work environment some groups are more open than others to working with academics. There is a disjuncture between the immediate and responsive nature of policymaking and the more considered process of academic research that does not necessarily lend itself to collaboration. However, with universities (and indeed higher education policy) increasingly focusing on ‘impact’, academics can and should be proactive about the use of research beyond the lecture theatre.
If you’re thinking about engaging with government for research purposes, or want to share evidence from research you’ve carried out, here are my top five tips:
· Explore possibilities for collaboration at the outset of a project, not as an afterthought (others will want to know that they have a real stake in the project and can offer insights that shape how you approach your research)
· Use jargon-free language and provide evidence-based reports free from personal opinion
· Create useful networks with relevant government departments (civil servants, not ministers) by writing to them or providing evidence to select committees
· Attend seminars and find out about secondment opportunities with relevant think tanks
· Investigate how policy is implemented as well as developed, as there are often more opportunities to conduct research with local-level organisations than with national government
I attended the course to think about how I might interact with policymakers while conducting research for my National Cinemas? project, which examines the history of film policy, production and exhibition in the UK. At a very early stage in the work (I’m still submitting applications for postdoc funding), I certainly don’t have any evidence to present to government bodies. But the workshop has encouraged me to establish contact with relevant cultural institutions while designing my research strategy to ensure I make the most of collaborative opportunities. Thanks to the course, I’m optimistic that my research can have an impact outside the walls of academia.
If you have AHRC funding, I recommend the workshop not only as an insight into the workings of government, but also to inspire you to take new approaches in your work.