By Sara Shinton, Barry Smith, Helen Freeman and Katie Nicoll Baines

2023 has started with a strong policy theme with two events in our Research and Public Policy strand with Professor Graeme Reid (Research and Public Policy: Increasing Impact with Professor Graeme Reid ). This five-part series of events, taking place around the UK, gives researchers access to someone with a lifetime of experience in policy from multiple perspectives. We’ll be posting key messages from these events if you are unable to attend, whilst respecting the “Chatham House Rules” which prompted people to ask questions and seek guidance in confidence. 

We’ve organised the insights from Graeme and his guests (starting with Dr Helen Cross from the Scottish Funding Council in Edinburgh and Dame Nicola Blackwood from Genomics England and the House of Lords in London) into three themes: 

Orientation – advice to help fellows understand the process and eco system of policy making so they can prepare and engage to best effect 

Relationships and Access – insights into the opportunities to meet and build visibility with those involved in policy 

Messaging – strong lessons about effective communication to present your ideas in impactful ways 

This first blog will focus on orientation and draws on messages from our first two events. 

The title of this post came out of a discussion about one researcher’s experience of providing expertise and being surprised by how this happened and how meandering the path was leading to actual policy change. The message from Graeme was that “Policy is messy” and that expecting anything else will reduce your preparedness and set you up for frustration or confusion. Hence the need for a period of orientation so you understand (as much as is possible) how your voice and expertise fits into a confusing landscape. Only complex issues affecting diverse groups and interests require a policy discussion, so effective contributors consider ALL the views and interests. 

This can be personally challenging as it will include engaging with groups or people with vastly different views including those whose positions might be considered emotional, sentimental or due to vested interest rather than logical and evidence-based. It’s important not to overlook these arguments as they will be heard by the policy makers and can be all the more compelling for their simplicity. Civil servants are guided in their work by neutrality so will not make value judgments or take sides – each contribution will be equally considered. 

Researchers develop focussed mindsets which can impede their ability to see how an issue that sits with one policy area (we discussed minimal alcohol pricing as a health issue) will intersect with many others (for this example, those lobbying against it talked about impacts on industry, tourism and culture). Failing to understand and contextualise your points is a risk, particularly if you don’t craft your messages in an engaging way (more on this in the messaging blog). This is not to say that your arguments aren’t understood – underestimate civil servants at your peril! In Graeme’s experience they are at least as intellectually talented as researchers and are experts in constructing intellectually robust arguments for delivering on democratically decided actions.  

A practical takeaway from the sessions so far, was to become familiar with other stakeholders’ perspectives and opinions so you can address these in your own communication with policy makers. Be honest with yourself about the barriers that others’ ideas might present to your own communication and resist the urge to dismiss views you’ve judged as inconsequential against your own “hierarchy” of validity. Graeme has seen ministers admit to using search engines for basic information about topics in their portfolios so this could be a useful tactic for broadening your own viewpoints (remembering that the algorithms search engines use will distort your own search results!) 

There are several resources to help with policy orientation that explain the key players and processes in policy. We’re working on a Policy Toolkit to signpost Fellows to these resources, but for “entry level” understanding, the Government website includes an overview of How government works – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk) and a summary of the Policy Profession – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk). The Public Policy Design (blog.gov.uk) blog includes a range of articles and insights, including What does policymaking look like? – Public Policy Design (blog.gov.uk). Finally (with a reminder these are the 101s of policy) the UK Parliament website explains the roles of  Parliament and the Government  and has a summary page written for researchers on how to best engage with them. And if (like me) you need the real basics, there’s a guide called “Get Involved” which explains things in really simple terms and provides the search terms to help navigate Parliament’s website and structures.  

After listening to Graeme my understanding was that Parliament confers powers on others, makes laws, scrutinises Government and is generally comfortable with ambiguity and unresolved questions. By contrast, Government is trying to get stuff done and can best achieve this when they have clarity about issues and clear solutions. They are highly accountable, so publish details of current and future interests with details of how to engage on Hansard, the official report of all Parliamentary debates. 

Policy making processes will often include inquiries and current ones are listed on the UK Parliament website under “Find an Inquiry. You may feel disappointed that current inquiries aren’t in synch with your own research interests and outputs but Graeme cautions that this virtually never happens. Instead, you need to view yourself in terms of your accumulated expertise and networks – you will have a valuable contribution to make even when it isn’t the exact contribution you hoped to make. A further cautionary note from Graeme is that you must never try to fit the questions being asked to the findings of your own research. Answer the questions and topic of the inquiry – the exam question – and be honest about any uncertainties associated with your knowledge. Policy makers are comfortable with ambiguity but look to arrive at a point of informed choice.  

There’s clearly a craft in balancing these complex ideas whilst presenting something in a straightforward way. Graeme recommends that you learn this by finding a current inquiry or committee that matches your expertise and preparing an evidence submission. If you are unhappy with it you don’t have to submit, but you will have learnt something about the style and content expected. If this feels like too much of a first step there are many policy-related documents available to help understand how complex issues are presented to policy makers. These include the resources provided by the three UK Parliament research services: 

POST – The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology who publish POSTnotes, four page briefings reviewing emerging areas of research, and POSTbriefs, dynamic and strategic evidence syntheses that are produced rapidly in response to major developments in current affairs or select committee inquiries. POST are continually seeking contributions on expertise or literature, so take a look at their current work programme to see if you can get involved. 

The House of Commons Library which provides an impartial research and information service for MPs and their staff, publishes their research and data dashboards. 

The House of Lords Library which provides impartial research, reference and resources services to support Members and the work of the House of Lords. 

If you feel more comfortable indirectly contributing to policy making processes, your professional institute may also provide an avenue for engagement. For example, the Institute of Physics Policy Centre provides an active and authoritative voice for physics.  

For those ready to engage directly, we talked about some of the policy players you might encounter. There are analysts who work with neutrality and synthesise all views into succinct impartial reports. These people often have a statistical or legal background. These reports are considered by advisers who develop a view based on these reports and a range of expert views, presenting dispassionate recommendations. Also in the mix are lobbyists who represent (for a fee) ONE view or position and bring a deep knowledge about this position and its merits. Although they are experts in nuanced communication, they will be promoting one vantage point at the expense of others. Graeme mentioned that civil servants are extremely good at telling whether someone who presents themselves as an advisor is actually lobbying for their favoured outcome. 

We also talked about the importance of all voices and experiences contributing to the evidence that affects policy (something explored in the Public Policy Design blog) and all our contributors so far have made clear they are always aware of the impacts of policy on people, hence the need for many different people to take up the opportunities to feed into consultations and framing.  

Our next blog will follow the Salford event with Graeme and look at how to build relationships and networks in policy.  

 

By Katie Nicoll-Baines, FLFDN Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Manager and Cheryl Hewer, UKRI Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Lead

At the 2021 FLF Annual Conference, the FLF Development Network collaborated with colleagues at UKRI to hold sessions to understand how to conceptualise inclusive research and innovation design and how this relates to the work you do. We built on those initial sessions by co-chairing an energetic roundtable discussion in November 2021 with the aim of exploring with you, our future leaders, what good inclusive research and innovation design looks like. We set out in our previous blog that when research and innovation is truly reflective of the diversity of the population as a whole, the credibility and relevance of that research and innovation is enhanced for all. This is also at the heart of UKRI’s vision for a research and innovation system in the UK that gives everyone the opportunity to contribute and to benefit and supported through UKRI’s four principles for change: diversity, connectivity, engagement, and resilience.

Through these early insightful discussions with you, a set of key themes emerged. One most notable was the recognition of time: time to be curious, ask questions and fully explore the necessary elements to make your research and innovation activities inclusive. Time to create and convene inclusive spaces and dialogue with diverse communities and the public to enable the building of strong, effective relationships. As well as the time to understand and translate that into the design and delivery of an inclusive research and innovation project.

Further themes focussed around the who, what, where, why and when. For example, where might there already be support or existing good practice? How can I learn from this and from others? Who might be role models?  What do I need to effectively support a diverse and inclusive research team?

We are really excited that FLFs are contributing to improving inclusive research and innovation design through a variety of projects supported by the Plus Funds.  The projects are using different approaches, exploring more inclusive practices across different disciplines. For example:

Looking beyond the FLFs, over the course of the past year alone there continues to be a strong momentum for developing and improving inclusive practices and design, both nationally and internationally. This includes a framework for sex, gender, and diversity analysis in research, recently published in Science, which collected emerging global practices to understand and improve efforts to enhance international collaborations and research excellence. Publishers and other funders are also setting out commitments. For example,  Springer Nature with a commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion in research publishing and the Wellcome Trust have also set out in their Strategy goals for all Wellcome funded research to be inclusive in both design and practice by 2031.

There are various activities underway across UKRI contributing to advancing inclusive research and innovation design. These are informed and shaped by close collaborations with various communities and include:

  • EPSRC have introduced expectations to help the engineering and physical sciences community to identify and address the specific EDI barriers in their own environment.
  • Following close working with their community through a survey, working groups and workshops, MRC introduced new requirements expecting applicants to use both sexes of animals, tissues and cells by default and applicants should provide justification for single sex studies. Further work on human participation is also progressing.
  • Within innovation, Innovate UK is working with the KTN to develop a programme on Inclusive Innovation which includes funding for ‘inclusive innovation’ awards and longer-term work to develop a toolkit.
  • Additionally, AHRC established the Creative Communities programme aiming to capture the explosion of collaboration and connectivity to unlock the potential of arts and culture post-COVID

As we see the needle shifting and approaches to research and innovation design become more inclusive, we want to continue to shape policies and practice informed by, and which support the work of our aspiring future leaders. Building on the valuable insights and discussions with you previously, we are excited to hold a second round- table on 2nd May . The focus will be ‘policy into practice’ with UKRI and Wellcome Trust sharing their latest policy work. You will also hear from the UKRI Public Engagement team following the recent publication of the UKRI Public Engagement Strategy about various programmes across UKRI that are supporting sustainable community involvement in research and innovation and how this contributes to inclusive research and innovation design.  Please sign up HERE.

By Katie Nicoll Baines

Knowing how to intervene when you witness someone being bullied or harassed can feel like an impossible task. The fear that you will say the wrong thing and make an already tense situation worse or the worry that someone might not want your help in the first place, are among the multitude of thoughts might wrestle with if you are motivated to help but do not have the knowledge or experience to know how to effectively.

Bullying and Harassment is, unfortunately, prevalent in Higher Education institutions. In 2019, UKRI published an Evidence Review, which you can read HERE, which provided a comprehensive overview of the problem we are facing as well as examining effective approaches to tackling bullying & harassment in research and innovation environments.

The Future Leaders Fellows Development Network is marking anti-bullying week (14th- 18th November 2022) by delivering a session on Active Bystander Training on the 17th November, online, between 0930-1100. Register for the training HERE. The delivery of this training as part of our network activities compliments the recommendations by UKRI in addressing this critical issue.

This session has been designed as a training session that is specifically tailored to the research and innovation environments that you are navigating. This training aims to improve your understanding of what bullying & harassment is and equip you with the tools to intervene, to be able to support those affected and challenge those causing harm to others.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

By: Sara Shinton, Katie Nicoll Baines & Cheryl Hewer

We’re looking forward to joining you for the UKRI’s FLF Annual Conference in a few weeks and hope that many of you will opt to attend our session on Embedding Diversity in Inclusive Research and Innovation Design. The aim of the session is to explore what inclusive research is and understand what you need to inform the development of the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI)/FLFDN Roundtable on Thursday 25th November and ensure that you have the right support to fully engage.

Inclusive Research and Innovation Design is at the heart of UKRI’s vision, which sets out an ambition for a research and innovation system in the UK that gives everyone the opportunity to contribute and to benefit. For this to happen, we need to create inclusive and safe environments where the quality and integrity of research and innovation is not compromised. Research benefits from involving people from outside the research community in a process of shared learning and discovery. This may happen in a variety of ways – co-production, collaboration or participant and public involvement. But the evidence[1] is overwhelming in that a diversity of people, ideas and knowledge enables a healthier culture, which in turn can result in research and innovation that has the widest benefit. When research and innovation is truly reflective of the diversity of the population as a whole, the credibility and relevance of that research and innovation is enhanced for all.

Some of you will already be familiar that this is part of a global movement particularly noting the introduction of Gender Equality Statement that forms part of applications for International Development Funding. (Whatever your level of familiarity, you might find the Gender Sensitive Research toolkit from Gender.Ed, an interdisciplinary hub focused on gender and sexuality studies, useful).

Additionally, teams focus on different aspects, including across UKRI where we are starting to pilot and embed diversity in research and innovation for example, through including equality questions in the application process for Doctoral Training Partnerships (DTPs) and Centres for Doctoral Training (CDTs) and other large programmes. However, we want to explore embedding diversity in all aspects of research and innovation and what this means at each stage, right from the early concept of ideas to who is able to participate, and who benefits (see diagram below).To embed EDI principles, all aspects of research and innovation must be inclusive. From its concept and planning, to the design of the questions, value and participation of people, to fundamentally thinking about the data, literature and methods. We would encourage early thinking – is it inclusive? Does it consider who may be impacted? Will it be representative of all parts of society or am I limiting who can participate and benefit? This also extends to considering the composition of the research team – is it diverse and does it represent the people in which should benefit from its impacts? Would you know how to start a conversation or how to navigate potential biases? These questions may at first be quite daunting or for some disciplines, feel irrelevant altogether. However, this is not about being proscriptive, we want to work with the FLF+ community as a key co-design partner in this work to ensure this feels relevant and generative.

Building on the work internationally through the Gender Equality Statements, there is a need to continuously build practical tools and experiment with this in practice. We have created an opportunity to explore and discuss how we can better support you and embed inclusive research and innovation design, as well as understand what this means to you and your work. We are therefore inviting you as our future leaders, to help shape this next phase of work and help conceptualise and shape what good inclusive design might look like.

We hope that you will want to learn more about Embedding Diversity in Inclusive Research and Innovation Design, particularly if you have never considered this in your own work and aren’t sure how it relates to you. To help as many FLFs as possible be fully involved in this process, we’re putting in place a short, flexible programme of webinars and drop-in sessions in the few next month to help you come to the roundtable with an understanding of the concepts and how they are applied.

Following the session at the UKRI FLF Annual Conference there will a drop-in coffee morning on October 28th at 10am. This will be an informal chance to learn more about UKRI’s plans and what’s ahead.

In November, we’ll be sharing a short series of webinars with researchers and innovations from a range of fields, talking about their inclusive design approaches and their impacts.

On November 25th from 10am – 1pm we’ll be running the Roundtable where you can help UKRI understand the support you will need and the contributions you can make to this process.

After the Roundtable, we expect some of you to want to continue your conversations and will support you in setting up a network to keep these going. We will also encourage you to think about using the Plus Funds to develop these ideas.

This partnership illustrates the distinctive approach of the FLFDN. In addition to the mentoring, training, coaching and individual support the network offers, we are working with partners in the research and innovation community to create opportunities for FLFs to shape our sector. The conversations with Cheryl and her team at UKRI are part of a wider set of discussions which are going to generate similar opportunities. If there are any opportunities you would like the network to explore and broker (with funders, industry, policy or other partners), just let Bridget know by emailing hello@flfdevnet.com

[1] Why diversity helps to produce stronger research (nature.com)