Why Impact is Important
The IMPACKT project aims to increase the impact that scientific research has on policy-makers, and in turn empower scientists to take a more active role in policy-making. The relationship between academics, policymakers and industry can and should be mutually beneficial. The push towards evidence-informed policy-making makes it essential that policy-makers are willing to engage with academics and scientists not only on specific, ad hoc issues, but in a sustained manner that promotes true collaboration. At the same time, academics have an increasing responsibility to ensure that their research has societal influence and impact, and as such must be willing to work with policy-makers in establishing what research is important and how it is utilised in addressing societal challenges. In austere times such as these, policy-makers have a responsibility to efficiently allocate limited resources, and academics rely on funding to conduct their research, and these resource constraints again underline the importance of policy impact in research. By embedding impact and sustained collaboration between academics and policy-makers, IMPACKT aims to help to inform a new reality where scientific research is a relevant and central part of the policy debate, enabling policy-makers to craft effective and evidence-informed policy, and academic research to flourish and have a measurable societal, economic and environmental impact.
The IMPACKT project directly links work in politics and public policy, medicine and engineering. It draws its main analytical approach from the policy sciences, engaging with the literature on stakeholder and expert engagement in the policy-making process. From medicine, it will link many of the contemporary debates around immunology and cancer research to current debates around health care provision and the focus on preventive and holistic approaches to current health. This is presently being championed by the Welsh government and has a clear and useful linkage with the greater policy debate. From engineering, this project will directly link scientific approaches to sustainable clean energy production, such as carbon capture and alternative sources of fuel, with policy initiatives undertaken in energy, environmental, economic and innovation policy areas. These are key issues at all levels of government – local, Welsh, UK, EU and supranational levels.
More generally, this work aims to examine the nature of interdisciplinarity itself, and the ramifications of interdisciplinary research on academia, science and public policy. While interdisciplinarity is implicitly taken as a positive in research design, this work will probe into the actual added value of working across disciplines. This feeds into 1) academic values, in terms of the Research Excellence Framework and general measures of research quality; 2) the value of evidence-based policy that should draw on expertise in a variety of disciplines, depending on the policy area; and 3) the value of holistic approaches to policy that clearly link research to policy to goals to outputs and impact. Through its iterative design, the research will examine the viability of interdisciplinary work, ways in which it can be fostered and how this can be linked to public policy in a sustained fashion. This project is highly relevant in that it will examine the common barriers to interdisciplinary research, ways in which these can be overcome and how this interdisciplinarity can be institutionally entrenched in a meaningful manner. Secondly, this project aims to engage policymakers with scientists who may not have experience working with public policy, increasing relevance of research.
While there is a body of literature on scientist and expert engagement in the policy process (for an overview, please see Curry, D., Van de Walle, S. & Gadellaa, S. (2014) “Public Administration as an Academic Discipline: Trends and Changes in the COCOPS Academic Survey of European Public Administration Scholars”, available at http://www.cocops.eu/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/COCOPS_PAasadiscipline_report_09.02.pdf), there are two main gaps in this literature. First, much of the academic literature is focused on the engagement of general policy experts, rather than scientists. Second, the literature tends to focus on ad hoc, issue-specific engagement between groups, rather than looking at developing sustained interaction over time. While institutional approaches to engagement are increasing, such as the creation of the Chief Scientific advisory post to the Welsh government, there is less of a proactive approach by universities to institutionalise ways in which its academics can engage with policymakers. This research aims to fill this gap.
As such, the project is innovative in three main ways. First, its iterative structure will provide evidence about how sustained, multi-issue relations between policymakers and academics work and can be developed. This will in turn provide evidence and support for articles written about academic impact and policy engagement, which currently run the risk of approaching these issues in an unsystematic manner. Second, this research will innovate in the public policy literature by bringing in scientific perspectives on the policy process, deepening and enriching the often-theoretical push for evidence-based policy-making. Finally, the study will enhance the impact of research undertaken in the STEM subjects by directly linking it to the policy process and developing communication channels for scientists to reach policymakers. This will be critical for future research grant applications in academia, where it is now essential to support scientific and technical excellence with measurable pathways to impact. Clearly, the toolkits developed in this study will help amplify the impact of laboratory-based research taken to the policy level.