ESRC Institute for the Microeconomic Analysis of Public Policy

Lead Research Organisation: Institute for Fiscal Studies
Department Name: IFS Research Team

Abstract

Our goal at the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) is to promote effective economic and social policies by better understanding how policies affect individuals, families, businesses and the government's finances. The ESRC Institute at IFS acts as a national resource to conduct and disseminate world-class research to inform policy. We aim to: (a) make major scientific progress in understanding how individuals and firms behave and how they react to government policy and their broader economic and institutional environment; (b) ensure this knowledge is used to have substantial positive impact on the operation and evaluation of policy across a broad range of areas; and (c) operate as a national resource to build technical and policy capacity by exploiting and collecting new types of data, collaborating internationally and with those in other relevant disciplines, and training a new generation of highly skilled researchers. These objectives contribute directly to promote and support the production and application of world-class, independent social science.

Our research agenda covers a broad range of topics and is designed to address major challenges the UK and other economies face in ensuring the resilience of households, firms and the broader economy. It will continue to evolve in response to the changing policy landscape. Our agenda is organised around five interconnected themes: inequalities and living standards; tax and benefit reform; human capital and productivity; the challenges of an ageing population; and demands on public expenditure and public services.

Our research focuses on the impacts of policy and importantly on the mechanisms through which those impacts arise. This means we need to: model how people make decisions through their lives and the interactions between different economic actors; understand the context within which decisions are taken; use appropriate evaluation methods, and develop new ones where they do not exist; and develop new data and measurement tools where needed.

Our main focus is on policy in the UK, but we also work with and inform policy debates in the US, Europe, and low- and middle-income countries. We regularly interact with researchers worldwide, exploiting our unique team-based research environment for capacity building in empirical policy research.

Planned Impact

Who benefits from this research and how will they benefit?

A key objective for the ESRC Institute at IFS is to ensure that the knowledge gained through our research has substantial positive impact on the operation and evaluation of policy across a broad range of areas including taxation, labour markets, welfare, pensions and, more recently, education, productivity, public finances, health and development. In order to achieve this, we engage directly with policymakers, at a national, regional and local level in the UK, as well as with policymakers overseas and in international organisations. ESRC funding ensures that IFS can make its contribution to the policy debate in an informed and non-partisan way.

In order to facilitate the democratic scrutiny of existing and proposed policies, we engage with those in civil society with an interest in policymaking. This includes MPs, campaigning organisations, business people, members of the public and the media. As well as contributing to current debates, we aim to provide an educational resource for students and young people to contribute more widely to the long-term public understanding of economics and the role that social science has to play in the shaping of better policy.

What do we do to engage with these groups?

Our networks of policymakers are both wide and deep, and we continue to strengthen these, with co-funding from our IAA, e.g. through round-table events involving researchers and civil servants at different stages of their career. The fact that the ESRC Institute sits within IFS means that researchers have access to a strong communications team, providing contacts and expertise in engaging with the media, policymakers and wider community.

These networks lead to continued two-way feedback between researchers and policymakers, allowing us to (a) bring the messages and findings of our specific research studies to the attention of policymakers, (b) deliver more general research-based messages and advice founded on state-of-the-art evidence and knowledge, (c) understand the evolving needs of policymakers and so inform the design of our research agenda and (d) establish a policy debate in government and the media based on rigorous research evidence.

We regularly talk to officials in government departments, including HMT, HMRC, ONS, DWP, DH, DfE, Cabinet Office, BEIS, DfID, DIT and DCLG, and in the OBR. We work with local government and representative organisations such as the LGA and CIPFA and with devolved administrations in Edinburgh and Cardiff. Our work with international policymakers includes international finance institutions (e.g. the World Bank), government officials and NGO staff. Researchers sit on numerous advisory boards, as well as taking part in face-to-face discussion with policy contacts.

The ESRC Institute at IFS will be at the forefront of public engagement, directly and via the media. As well as aiming our outputs at the top academic journals, we serve the public and media directly through publishing straightforwardly written and open-access briefing notes, reports and observations (blogs) as well as writing for newspapers and engaging directly with print and broadcast journalists. We receive well over 1,000 mentions a year in hard-copy UK national newspapers and more than 20,000 on news sites. The website now has 1.3 million page views per year. We are present on Twitter (33.7k followers) and Facebook and produce videos to disseminate our research to a wide audience.

We are expanding our wider educational role, through a series of public lectures to be held in venues across the UK, and by creating and curating a range of online resources aimed directly at the public, to include a website addressing questions about tax using a range of media, including video. Working with partners such as the Royal Economic Society, we are creating materials aimed at school and university students to help promote diversity in economics.
 
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