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 ( and a summary of the Policy Profession – GOV.UK ( The Public Policy Design ( blog includes a range of articles and insights, including What does policymaking look like? – Public Policy Design ( 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 Sara Shinton, Director, Future Leaders Fellows Development Network

Interdisciplinary research (IDR) runs through the UK’s research and innovation strategy, but close to a century after the term was first used we are still struggling as a sector to evaluate it. This blog summarises the key points from a recent FLFDN event on Interdisciplinary Peer Review and points to some helpful additional resources.

Although our session was focused on IDR Peer Review, we started with scene setting. Professor Barry Smith gave a whistle-stop tour of the policy landscape highlighting the “downward push” from BEIS for “a continued expansion in the conception of what research is and does” and how this underpins the UKRI Strategy. The highlights from the latest Budget show that research and innovation is a Government priority, with interdisciplinary research reflected in much of their language (see Barry’s slides for details).

Much interdisciplinary work is done by researchers with strong disciplinary bases and a clear sense of the value their IDR brings to their home discipline. However, this isn’t always an easy fit for traditional career paths and the impacts on interdisciplinary researchers have been widely reported (one example being the British Academy’s 2016 Crossing Paths project.) The Stern Review was prompted by concerns about the disadvantaging of IDR in REF2014 leading to changes to the 2021 REF with an Interdisciplinary Research Advisory Panel (IDAP), which Barry was a member of, providing expertise to ensure that “that IDR should be neither advantaged nor disadvantaged for assessment in the REF”.

To help promote better practice, REF 2021 included a definition of IDR (although it’s worth noting that IDR shouldn’t be considered to be “one thing” as it’s a term that covers many different approaches and activities). Institutional submissions also included a statement on how they were supporting IDR and you may learn something about your host by reading theirs! (The REF website includes a summary of their approach to IDR and a protocol for assessment.)

Our next speaker, Professor Patrick Haggard shared experience a panel chair and reviewer, giving us insights into the way interdisciplinarity is conveyed by effective proposal writers. He looks for

  • Evidence that the PI understands the added value of working with a broad team AND that it brings extra challenges (reflected in the project structure, communication and team cohesion activities)
  • Clear statements of added value of an IDR approach, including the value to the disciplines involved and what the partnerships will stimulate
  • The use of efficient signposting language to help home in on benefits (“added value” and “synergy” were two examples)
  • A deeper than “text book” knowledge of the disciplines in the partnership, providing evidence that the relationships are effective and have been built through genuine dialogue, listening and reframing
  • A compelling narrative (whilst being aware that as an IDR reviewer, you mustn’t get carried away by good writing)
  • Clear research questions which explain the need for IDR approaches, using schematics effectively to convey interrelationships succinctly

Underpinning much of this is respectful interaction between researchers with strong disciplinary identities. Patrick sees IDR strengthened when researchers act as guides for their collaborators, helping them to understand their expertise, being open to their perspectives and providing their own. A good IDR collaboration involves welcoming the “trespassers” whilst ensuring that there are benefits for all disciplines and partners.

As a reviewer, he warns that it takes more time to evaluate IDR as it will involve wider reading and reference checking. He has to be receptive to ideas outside his area of expertise and to invest in understanding them. He also had advice on the challenge many IDR reviewers face – feeling the limits of their knowledge don’t cover the work they evaluate. Funding bodies should ask reviewers for a statement about this and he is transparent, one example being finding it difficult to judge the degree of novelty in some fields.

Professor Catherine Lyall is an expert in IDR and brought insights from across the sector. Her publications include “Interdisciplinary Research Journeys” (2011, available on open access) and “Being an Interdisciplinary Academic” (2019). She spoke about what we mean by disciplines and how they are characterised and how this creates challenges for IDR as reviewers are often prone to pointing out disciplinary “weaknesses” rather than ID strengths. Added to this is that ID research goals are often different to disciplinary ones, requiring different research design and methods, but then they are subject to evaluation based on disciplinary models.

Catherine sees very little IDR peer review training from funders, but a motivated researcher can find a wealth of resources to help inform their approach. (Volkswagen Stiftung’s Freigest scheme and the Swiss National Science Foundation were applauded for good practice.)  The EU-funded SHAPE-ID project includes Guided Pathways to help navigate resources by goal or role. There are lively communities of ID researchers and reviewers who share challenges and good practice, including:

ITD-Alliance – Global Alliance for Inter- and Transdisciplinarity

International Network for the Science of Team Science (INSciTS)

Integration and Implementation Insights – A community blog and repository of resources for improving research impact on complex real-world problems (

Catherine’s key points were

  • Review of IDR can be biased against novelty (when judged from a disciplinary perspective)
  • Panels work most effectively with “integration experts” who can bring their own experiences of working across disciplinary boundaries and with different people
  • Funders who understand IDR will explain to reviewers what they mean by this term and how they want reviewers to approach it (as seen with the approach for REF 2021)
  • There is a HUGE body of work on IDR and it’s frustrating to see a lack of awareness of this leading to so much reinvention. This was a major motivator and driver for the SHAPE-ID project
  • The FLF community has a strong IDR base and she urged them to step forward to be evaluators and to look for opportunities to contribute to discussions about research evaluation
  • Most institutions will have a centre or institute which promote and foster IDR – look for this in your home institution

Finally, with more opportunities and invitations for peer review expected from funders, participants were urged to speak up for IDR and to ask “how will we ensure we don’t penalise IDR?” and to see themselves as the IDR champion in the room. The links dotted throughout this blog should equip reviewers for this role.

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

[1] Why diversity helps to produce stronger research (

I’ve spoken and written about resilience a fair bit over the last few years, always with the proviso that I’m not enabling the poor behaviours or accepting structures that diminish resilience. I’m very aware of the backlash against “resilience training” as an alternative to addressing institutional problems. Having said that, I recognise two things – that some of our resilience challenges ARE about personal choices and habits and are possible to change, and that improvements to our research culture are happening slowly, so we have some responsibility to supporting people whilst this is happening. I rather hope that by helping people to be more resilient, they are actually more likely to engage in the process of change, but that may be naivety.

So, I’ve run a workshop on resilience, but with an added flavour of avoiding self-sabotage. If you weren’t able to join the workshop you’ll shortly find a full recording of the session posted on the FLF Development Network website.

Slides: Bridging 4 – Resilience and Self Sabotage

I referred to a number of resources that feature in all my resilience sessions:

A significant part of the session looked at resilience more generally, but in this blog I’ll focus on the new aspect of self-sabotage. This echoes an approach I’d taken in the Time Management session which I’ve recently run for FLF Dev Net. In this I talked about the process for forming new habits and making better decisions. A lot of self-sabotage-avoidance advice takes the same approach:

Recognising that self-sabotage is a result of fighting against a goal you had set yourself. Is there something about the goal that is wrong? Is there something about the way you’ve decided to achieve it that’s wrong?

Then you characterise the things you’ve done which have derailed the goal. I liked a term from the “Greater Good Magazine” blog on self sabotage which described these as ” seemingly irrelevant decisions”. My life is full of these and I usually don’t notice them, but starting to notice where my bad habits are rooted has helped me spot these “SIDs”.

Another blog from Entrepreneur Europe suggested the strategy of making small changes and steps. In most of my sessions which relate to behaviour change I talk about 5% improvements, often inspired by the great Twain quote:

(not this Twain quote, if you were wondering…)

I find it useful to share challenges and how I’m trying to address them, but am aware that it can be difficult to show this vulnerability and I might think twice if I was at an earlier stage in my career. Watching the Brené Brown TED talk on vulnerability and the longer Call to Courage show on Netflix has helped me with this. As a manager I would rather know about these challenges early so I can work with my colleagues to help them get through them. (In looking up the links for the Brené Brown videos I also found some short animations from the RSA on empathy and blame which are only a few minutes long…)

Finally, in the chat at the end of the session we explored some common triggers of dropping resilience and I wasn’t surprised to hear that the challenges of orientation to a new organisation (exasperated by lockdown) were a problem for many. I am thinking about how to support the FLF community with this and there are a range of resources already available online, such as these from the University of Edinburgh:

  • A guide for new researchers which was a side product of a project to explore resilience a few years ago
  • The virtual version of Edinburgh’s Get Connected event for new research staff
  • Most organisations will have induction information for staff. If you’re struggling to find yours it might be referred to as “on-boarding

As always in a session on resilience a lot of the value came from the attendees being open and honest about their challenges. They aren’t alone in finding things hard at the moment and neither are you. I hope the resources here help you to see that, then to start to build your own resilience plan.

This blog post is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution CC BY 3.0

This post supports a time management workshop for the UKRI Future Leader Fellows Development Network. A full recording of the workshop will be available to members of the network on our website, and you can review the slides here: Bridging 3 – Priorities and Time

I suspect many of those attending the workshop and reading this now will have already been on many time management workshops. I spent many years going to workshops and hoping for a magic wand to “fix” things before realising that any time management solution has to be tailored for the specific problem experienced by the individual. I also realised that some of my time management problems were a consequence of the behaviours and choices that made me successful.

A better approach is to recognise that there are at least three stages to improving your time management.

Investing time in REALLY understanding what choices you are making about how to spend your time and reflecting on what you can change and are willing to, and then which aspects of your time management problems are about your environment and people around you.

Looking at the various time management tips and advice and working out which are the best solutions for your situation

Working to embed these new approaches in your work habits

Number 3 is the toughest for me – my good intentions evaporate and I find myself back in overload. The session looks at all three aspects and shares a lot of tips from other researchers.

Supporting the session are a number of resources and recommended links:

Mapping your time:

I’ve posted a number of versions of time mapping sheets in other blogs on the topic of time management, productivity etc, so here’s a few options:

Time Logs with Happy or Sad column
Time management – about me or about others
Shape of day

And if you are concerned about things drifting and what to prioritise/who to ask for help:

Risk Register

If you want to have some structure to the suggested daily review:

Review of day

I’ve previously put all these thoughts into a time management guide which is openly available and includes a completed version of the “about me or about others” grid.

Ten Tips for Time Management: (you can see another session on these here):

  1. Prioritise important stuff
  2. Minimise distractions
  3. Create deadlines
  4. Improve environment
  5. Know your energy rhythm
  6. Minimise other people’s work
  7. Use margins of time
  8. Notice set backs to plans
  9. Manage demands from others
  10. Do it well enough

Embedding Better Habits

The final part of the session was about strategies to change habits and decision making about time for the better.

We talked about saying no to more offers and opportunities and I fawned slightly over a series of great blogs written by one of my Edinburgh colleagues, Professor Sue Fletcher-Watson:

The Year of Radical No’s
Reflecting on the Radical No 9 months in
Reporting on the “Yes’s” possible because of the Radical No
– and general thoughts on time management

We also talked about the concept of “triaging” offers and decisions, building on earlier sessions from my FLF network colleague Tracey. A dig around my uni blog uncovered a couple of posts on this theme which may be interesting – one on how to scrutinise your own decisions and another on how to ask busy people for help. If one of your issues is that people ask you for help that eats up too much time, then there might be some suggestions in the second blog which you could develop in gentle suggestions to help them and (mostly) you:

Do I really want to do this?
Buy-in from the Busy

Finally we had a few suggestions about the value of various books and resources:
Designing Your Life
Digital Minimisation or Deep Work (or anything by Cal Newport)
Do More Great Work (my suggestion – resources from the books used to be available online, but now seem to have been replaced by an online programme)

Finally I mentioned one of my favourite online resources from Judy Ringer.

We Have to Talk: A Step-By-Step Checklist for Difficult Conversations

Note that I’ve got this blog up quickly – it’s not perfect but hopefully more helpful that the alternative – it sitting on my to do list for a week and then falling off it…