Actively anticipating the unintended consequences on air quality of future public policies (ANTICIPATE)

Lead Research Organisation: University of Birmingham
Department Name: Institute of Applied Health Research


UK public policies have significant environmental, economic, social and political consequences over both near and distant time horizons, with potential impacts for years to come. Policy decisions are therefore required to be resilient to a wide range of future scenarios, necessitating an integrated approach to policy appraisal beyond the confines of single Departments, and across all tiers of national and local Government. ANTICIPATE will address this need, contributing to more robust and resilient policy making through improved awareness of the positive and negative consequences outwith the core areas of intended impact.

Poor air quality is considered by the UK Government to be "the largest environmental risk to public health in the UK". As well as human health, air pollution also has wider implications for the natural environment and for the economy. The draft Clean Air Strategy outlines ambitions for tackling this public health challenge by reducing UK air pollution, improving the environment and achieving economic growth. In recognition of the multiple interrelated sectors and transboundary relationships, its strategic goals are explicitly aligned for co-delivery with three core Government strategies: UK Industrial Strategy, Clean Growth Strategy, and 25 Year Environment Plan.

ANTICIPATE will enable an in-depth and systems based analysis of four policies selected from these headline Government Strategies, as well as a key health strategy, the NHS Long Term Plan. A horizon scanning exercise, followed by scoping discussions with policy makers, will be used to identify suitable policies, that is, those that are at an early stage in development and that are likely to have implications for air quality. We will aim to include a broad range of policies, from those with clear links to air quality to those whose impact is less obvious, and include both nationally and locally focused ones. For each of the selected policies, workshops will be organised with participation from policy analysts, stakeholders, and air quality researchers to explore the policy proposals and their potential impacts on air quality, either perverse or beneficial or both, with an emphasis on identifying implications that had previously been unremarked or under emphasised. The workshops will also identify synergies and conflicts with other policies with implications for air quality.

Through these workshops, ANTICIPATE will investigate novel applications of social science tools and techniques to enable rethinking and improvement of prospective policy ideas at the appraisal stage. The process will build a diverse, interdisciplinary network of stakeholders to apply a wide range of perspectives and expertise to the policies, probing implementation, possible outcomes, and the potential mitigation of adverse impacts and realisation of beneficial outcomes. The workshops may reveal issues and evidence gaps which will be shared with other researchers engaged in the Clean Air Programme and more widely to enable the academic research community to respond. A set of briefing papers focused on the conclusions from each individual policy exploration will be proactively disseminated to stakeholders from across the UK policy and research landscape.

Throughout the project, activities will be monitored and evaluated, enabling improvement of the process on subsequent iterations as well as feeding into the production of guidance on applying an effective policy exploration process. At the end of the project a Manual will be produced providing guidance on appropriate use of methods for assessing the implications of future policy, bridging the gap between academic research and policy formulation. This will be available in multiple formats to ensure it is accessible to a range of potential beneficiaries ranging from other academics to local and national decision makers.

Planned Impact

The impact goals of this research are to:
* better understand the unanticipated consequences of public policies on air quality;
* develop methods to aid effective horizon scanning of future policy that takes account of impacts outside the core area of policy focus;
* enable rethinking and improvement of prospective policy ideas at the appraisal stage to take account of their implications for air quality, and wider through the application of the techniques developed here across the policy landscape;
* provide access to a multidisciplinary community of trusted academic experts and demonstrate the benefits of engaging this expertise in policy scoping and development.

The expected outcome is that, within or shortly after the completion of the project, one or more proposed government policies will be refined or reformulated in the light of the evidence brought to bear on it by ANTICIPATE. Thus the project has the ambitious but achievable goal of directly 'making a difference' to public policy in a way that reflects the ambitions of the Clean Air Analysis and Solutions programme.

Key stakeholders of ANTICIPATE are policymakers within national government, public agencies, devolved administrations and local authorities across the UK. The project will create an engaged and well-informed interdisciplinary network that will provide opportunities for co-design of future policy and research needed to support policy making. It will also raise awareness across local, regional and national Government of the multiple areas impacting air pollution and the importance of including air quality considerations in policy development.

The primary impact of ANTICIPATE will be on public policy as detailed in the above goals. The project will also deliver secondary impacts on:
* the economy, through:
- the development of mechanisms to enable more robust policy with fewer unintended and detrimental consequences, particularly on the environment, thereby delivering efficiencies for the policy process;
- a decrease in the detrimental and an increase in the beneficial impacts of policy on air quality and therefore ultimately an improvement in UK air quality. This leads to decreases in the public health burden and environmental damage resulting from air pollution; and
* society, through:
- the improvement in UK air quality and decrease in the associated public health burden;
- a better understanding of the differential effects of the impacts on vulnerable people of policies that result in poorer air quality.

In the longer term, project beneficiaries are the population of the United Kingdom. Through facilitating delivery of the Clean Air Strategy policy goal to halve health harms of air pollution, societal benefits include an increase in healthy years of life (0.7 year deficit on average currently), and reduction in associated wider economic costs of approximately £20Bn per year. These benefits will accumulate on an intergenerational basis, due to health effects of air pollution from birth to old age, and long-term time horizons for population impacts of policy decisions.

At the conclusion of the project, ANTICIPATE will have embedded environmental impact considerations within the policy development cycle, fostering a cross-departmental approach to policy making, thereby reducing duplication and mitigating adverse impacts of policy decisions. It will provide a transferable exemplar of the application of UKRI-funded research to deliver multiple environmental, economic and health benefits, supporting the delivery of UK Clean Air Strategy and associated policy ambitions.


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