Bringing the Homefront to the Forefront: Understanding the academia-policy gap by centring lived experiences of military families in welfare provision

Lead Research Organisation: University of York
Department Name: Politics


Although the British military relies upon the practical and emotional labour of partners of serving personnel to maintain operational effectiveness, their needs are continually over-looked and treated as tertiary to military objectives. The state pays considerable lip service and publicises the idea of supporting MFs, e.g. through the Armed Forces Covenant, but there is a gap between this discourse and reality. This has been markedly evidenced by the absence of family-specific recommendations in the recent Veterans Consultation. Furthermore, my PhD research found that there has been no considered review of the effectiveness of the overall welfare framework available to MFs - and success appears to be measured by the retention figures of serving personnel. Thus, voices and perspectives of MFs continue to go unheard, certain issues barely acknowledged and, at worst, denied.
This Fellowship will extend the scope of my PhD through a focused exploration of the relationship between the academy and policy by engaging with key stakeholders including academics from diverse approaches (e.g. quantitative/qualitative, critical/problem-solving), and policy-influencers (e.g. policy-makers, the MoD, related charities, practitioners, MPs and activists). It will spark a debate between the various approaches in academia and policy by exploring (dis)similarity between these stakeholders' identification of issues facing MFs, their foci, proposed solutions, and theoretical framework. Specifically, it will investigate the barriers and opportunities towards aligning policy and (multiple) academic narratives. I aim to encourage policy-influencers/makers to take seriously MFs' issues, and to explore ways in which MFs' voices and experiences may be better heard and understood, and thus centred within policy. Indeed, my thesis found that policy-influencers more often engage with academia that takes a quantitative approach and does not question military processes (e.g. approaches evident in some psychological and medical research) - obscuring findings, debates, and perspectives evidenced in approaches which place military processes at the heart of enquiry. This exploratory research will be achieved through the following:
1. Revisiting data collected during the PhD with support providers to develop additional innovative insights into support provision available for MFs. Gaps will be addressed through a further 5 interviews with policy-influencers;
2. Organising a conference presenting research examining the lives of MFs from different academic approaches (e.g. quantitative/qualitative, problem-solving/critical, medical/social) and associated opportunities/barriers towards engaging with policy;
3. Developing a report of the key findings around the identified academia-policy relationship;
4. Developing a journal article outlining the relationship between academic approaches and policy.
Throughout this Fellowship I will further establish myself within the academic sphere by maximising networking opportunities afforded by the activities outlined above, and revising/resubmitting three journal articles (submitted prior to the start of the Fellowship). Therefore, this Fellowship will enable me to build and enhance my profile as a newly qualified academic, conduct a small amount of additional research, and provide networking and dissemination opportunities to both academic and non-academic audiences.
Future Direction
This exploratory work builds the necessary foundations for defining and applying for future research. Upon identifying some of the barriers towards aligning academia and policy narratives, I will develop an application to Leverhulme's Early Career Fellowship order to explore this area in greater detail with a larger range of stakeholders (expected submission: Feb 2022).


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