Translation across borders: exploring the use, relevance and impact of academic research in the policy process

Lead Research Organisation: University of Sheffield
Department Name: Urban Studies and Planning


The overall aim of this project is to enhance the legacy of the Connected Communities (CC) programme through exploring the translation of university-led research into governmental policy processes. We aim to challenge and expand dominant understandings of research by drawing on insights and methods from the humanities and interpretive social science. Contemporary social problems are widely perceived as increasing in scope and complexity, and needing to be better understood if appropriate policy responses are to be developed. However, there is a longstanding problem that the relevance of academic research in understanding this complexity is not always obvious to potential 'research users' in government.

The heart of the proposed research is to observe the use and translation of research outputs generated by CC projects as they move into central government and local government policy processes. This process involves the interaction of academic researchers, research analysts and policy teams in Whitehall and local practitioners who implement policy initiatives. We will pose three research questions:

1: how are different kinds of CC research 'outputs' taken into policy arenas?
2: what modes of communication and types of knowledge are explicitly preferred and habitually adopted in different domains (academic, government research analyst etc.) and why?
3: what assumptions about the value of different kinds of findings and modes of communication characterise the domains, and how susceptible to change are these?

The research will focus on following outputs from the CC Policy Reviews for DCLG. This will allow comparison of a wide range of different kinds of communication whose uptake and translation will be taking place during 2014/2015 and so can be followed 'in real time'. Drawing on the research team's wider experience, and the review of CC projects carried out for the Reviews, other CC outputs will be introduced into the 'conversations' between academics and researchers as and when appropriate. This detailed, interpretive work will be put into a broader context through a survey of all CC projects to identify the extent and nature of policy engagement across the programme.

The research will be co-produced by a team of academics and the research analysts of DCLG's Decentralisation and Big Society (DABS) division. Its execution will involve close engagement with the Division's policy team and local government officers in the pilots of the 'OurPlace!' neighbourhood budgeting programme (i.e. key 'users' of the Policy Reviews).

We will:
a) Survey CC policy engagement: on-line survey of all CC projects, followed up by five interviews.
b) Observation: non-participant observation of DABS meetings averaging two per month over the 12 month fieldwork period (and/or others as opportunity arises) plus 4 periods, of one week, embedded participant observation fieldwork within DABS; obesravtion and interviewing in 3 OurPlace! authorities.
c) Semi-structured interviews: with Policy Review academics, DABS and OurPlace! officials.
d) Initiation workshop: with wider group of expert academics and policy makers and practitioners.
e) Workshops: three workshops in which the assumptions affecting and processes of translation across team borders will be explicitly examined by all participants.
f) Reflective writing: Our collective, continuous analysis of translation processes will be summarised and tested by monthly one-page reflections across the research team and research partners.

The outputs will be:
a) a survey of the CC programme's engagement with policy making
b) guidance for academic researchers (especially those working from arts and humanities perspectives) on co-production and increasing impact with policy-makers
c) guidance for government officials on using arts and humanities research
d) academic articles in selected journals.

Planned Impact

Recognising the gap between intentions and practice in delivering impact in policy-making, this research aims to contribute to a better understanding of impact itself. As research councils increasingly make impact a key criterion of grant funding, it is important to recognise that the value and relevance of academic research is not always obvious for those commissioning and using research within government. The research contributes to the goal of increasing the effectiveness of public services and policy, through improving how the academic sector works with government, how researchers use and communicate evidence in government and how policy officials articulate their policy questions to the academic sector. We aim to co-produce knowledge about the use of knowledge, producing new understandings amongst academics and government officers based in the examination of processes of interpretation, translation and interaction.

Direct (excluding academic) beneficiaries of the project will be:
- Research analysts in DCLG
- Policy teams in DCLG
- OurPlace! practitioners in local government
Indirect beneficiaries include:
- Research analysts and policy teams in other central government departments
- Academics engaged in arts and humanities research with central government
- Devolved administrations and local government
- Social science researchers and research funders
- Wider policy community using government-sponsored research or engaging with governments who themselves are guided by that research; including think tanks, campaigning organisations and professional bodies.
- The wider public, as the ultimate beneficiaries of improvements in policy effectiveness and efficiency.

How will they benefit?
Research analysts will be able to use the findings to inform research commissioning and better understand effective use of academic research with internal policy-makers and external audiences. Policy teams across central government will be able to collaborate better with research analysts as commissioners and ensure academic research better meets their needs. The AHRC can make use of the findings to better understand the process through which arts and humanities research findings are translated and used by policy and practitioner communities. This will be helpful in guiding future research calls and in producing guidelines for impact. The broader insights around translation and negotiation will be relevant for other research councils. Devolved administrations and local government will be able to apply the findings to their own commissioning and consumption of research. The wider policy community using government-sponsored research will benefit from the multifaceted account of research translation that the project offers.

We will have an impact during the life of the project, through our workshops and action learning activities. The launch and dissemination of the findings will be key impact points, particularly by raising awareness of the project with those who were not directly involved. We expect to have long-term and broader impact through dissemination in government social research channels and through CC and other academic networks. Staff will deepen their research and professional skills through the project, developing both a more reflective research practice and their understanding of how to undertake and negotiate policy-relevant research. The project will also consolidate professional skills such as event planning, networking, report-writing and dissemination of findings.


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Title Toolkit for engaging at the reserach-policy interface 
Description This is a set of 4 'tools' - diagnostic cards, checklist of 'do's and don'ts' for engagement, humorous cards to prompt refelection, and a gudie to the policy process - ultimately to be in both digital and hard copy. 
Type Of Art Artefact (including digital) 
Year Produced 2016 
Impact Still in production. Testing at conferences adn seminars has provoked the desired outcomes i.e. acadmics and polict makers refelecting on and discussing their practice. 
Description Note: these 'key findings' relate to the extension project. The analysis of the initial project is still being worked on and agreed with our partners in the civil service.
1) a very considerable amount of policy relevant knowledge has been created within the Connected Communities Programme, but relatively little of this has been communicated to central government, and in many cases its relevance is not recognised by academics
2) it is possible, and comparatively inexpensive, to share this knowledge. This is most effectively done through face-to-face meetings. Organising these - or other forms of transfer such as summary reports - is not straightforward.
3) many of the barriers can be overcome - or at least worked around - by skilled intermediaries; mechanisms should be found, probably by the Research Councils, to fund such posts.
4) Some of the barriers can be reduced by mutual learning about the 'others'' domain - again through face to face meetings, but also better provision of information, opportunities for workplace visits and shadowing, seminar series and so on.
Exploitation Route RCUK and/or universities and/or central government departments could use them to increase the impact of academic research through a) supporting specialist intermediaries to broker relationships between academics and government analysts b) supporting more, and more sustained, opportunities for civil servants and academics to learn about the nature of the other's 'worlds'.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Communities and Social Services/Policy,Education,Energy,Environment,Healthcare,Government, Democracy and Justice,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections,Other

Description The findings from the initial stage of the project were used directly in the extension, which led to researchers from 14 Connecetd Communities projects meeting potential civil service research 'users', creating personal and potentially sustainable connections between policy and £5.2 million of RCUK investment. This in turn has led to further connections and policy input, including into Louise Casey's 2016 Review of Community Opportunity and Isolation (feeding into the government's new 'Cohesive Communities' programme.) The cards developed as a communication tool have been used as training material on having impact for research support staff and academics at: University of Stirling: 2 August Australian National University 11 October SKAPE @ Edinburgh Uni 8 November Edinburgh uni network of KE and impact staff 13 December From the latter, they've now become a training tool at Edinburgh uni, used quite widely among research support staff. They're now going to start running workshops with academics.
First Year Of Impact 2016
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy,Education,Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Policy & public services

Description Inclusion of project findings in Dept. for Communities & Local Government Evidence Strategy
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
Impact The research has directly influenced DCLG's Evidence Strategy and which makes the case for structured dialogue with the academic sector and intermediation.
Description Membership of Advisory Board for Dept. for Communities & Local Government "Community Fund"
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee