Two Years On: How to Make Evidence Impactful on Policy

Two years after the UK went into lockdown, IPPO held a day-long series of sessions on March 24, 2022 to examine what lessons we must learn for future policymaking. The video of our panel discussion on Making Evidence Impactful is below, with further reflections from IPPO session chair professor Joanna Chataway.

Full list of speakers*

 

Key Takeaways

It was clear from our session how vital social science research methods are for making evidence impactful for policymakers.

Speakers and delegates agreed that there is further need for enhanced models of co-creation. Policymakers need to be involved in discussions with researchers from the beginning and build communities around evidence informed policy.

Erika Kraemer Mbula, professor of economics at University of Johannesburg discussed her Newton Fund Trilateral Research chair in Transformative Innovation, which focuses on alternative development paths for African economies (more here).

“Our lab experiments with new policy approaches in co-creation with policymakers at the core and is a process of co-learning, reflection, and engagement between teams of academics, policymakers, and practitioners.

“Co-creation is easier said than done and is about blending different types of interest and languages and even ways of thinking in our lab. Students contribute to building new narrative practices and networks of policy experimentation as part of their research. Policymakers engage in defining the research question, they receive expert academic input and advice, but build their own capacity through the process of engagement,” she said.

From a UK perspective, professor Alison Park, the interim executive chair of the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) described the role of this funding body. She identified the ESRC as a broker and intermediary. This was helpful considering that not all funders see themselves this way, and underlines how to effect impact we need to recognise that funders are part of an ecosystem.

Other funders do see themselves in this way, however. Canada’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) see themselves as having important and multiple roles beyond funding, explained Ursula Gobel, the council’s vice-president of Stakeholder Engagement and Advancement of Society.

“We at SSHRC have been identifying knowledge mobilisation as a funding grant criterion in all our research grant applications for some time. We offer dedicated funding for knowledge mobilisation and research collaboration, from connection grants to whole scaling of partnership grants, but we have dedicated efforts as well to communicate findings and policy implications to policymakers and the wider public.

“At SSHRC we see our role as an enabler, facilitator, and convener, and we establish and enable those relationships and networks to be created. There are numerous ways we facilitate that, from identifying research experts, roundtables, forums, and workshops to creating new channels to build, co-create and share that knowledge but also by developing relevant tools. We ensure that all our knowledge synthesis grant holders produce evidence briefs that draw from knowledge synthesis to identify policy implications with recommendations as well as the knowledge gaps which are very accessible to the policy community,” she said.

She added that it is important to see the issue of creating impact with evidence as a systemic one. At the SSHRC identifying knowledge mobilisation is part of a funding grant criterion in all research grants.

It was noted during the session that both academics and policymakers need to change in order to make evidence impactful.

According to Simon Brindle, director of COVID Recovery and Restart for the Welsh Government, the question about making evidence impactful can be summed up in three words.

Make it: Relevant, Timely and Digestible.

“Experts need to understand the limitations of the evidence particularly in the sense of COVID. There’s a whole set of issues around uncertainty. Decisions were being taken on issues where we didn’t have the full evidence base. We had to understand the implications without acting on full knowledge,” he said.

The challenges and dangers inherent in the ‘Celebrity Academics Culture’ was also raised, by Professor Annette Boaz, professor of health and social care policy at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Raising up individual academics undermines the fact that research is produced by academic teams and networks collaboratively. It’s a collective endeavour and not something one person has done by themselves, she said.

We ended by discussing the challenges thrown up by science and partisanship.

“The pandemic happened at the time of probably the most contested presidential election in the history of the United States, as a result, scientific research began to be perceived as partisan, being equated with the Democrats or Liberals or the left vs right,” said Dominique Brozzard, professor and chair in the department of life sciences communication at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“We all know that science is political, but science cannot be partisan, and I think it really taught us that there needs to be a careful thought process about how science can be used as a tool for political agenda in a way that it doesn’t deserve to be.”

Speakers included:

  • Professor Alison Park, the interim executive chair of the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)
  • Ursula Gobel, Vice-President, Stakeholder Engagement and Advancement of Society, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada
  • Simon Brindle, Head of Policy Profession in Welsh Government and Director of COVID Recovery and Restart
  • Professor Annette Boaz, Professor of Health and Social Care Policy at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
  • Professor Dominique Brozzard, Member of SEAN Executive Committee & Chair, Department of Life Sciences Communication, University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • Professor Erika Kraemer Mbula, Professor of Economics, University of Johannesburg

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