Year/Course: 2010-2011, Easter 2011
Project type: Featured

By i-Teamer, Dave Bosworth

Science can play a vital role in creating informed and useful policy, but often important research does not reach the attention of policy makers. Over the past three months, a group of early career researchers has been investigating the pathway to linking researchers with appropriate policy makers.

The i-Team on policy began by identifying key areas of research within Cambridge University. We looked for research which would have direct or indirect interest to policy makers but where these links were currently absent or poorly developed. In our trawl of research projects, we found a range of projects, some with well developed links to policy, some with little or no relevance to policy, and others – forming the subset that we were most interested in – that had significant policy implications but without any established links to policy.

We identified and approached academics working in a number of areas including food security in the Plant Science department, prenatal health with the Centre for Trophoblast Research and whole genomic sequencing with the Sanger Institute. However the most promising results came from Neuroscience Department and the work with Professor Carol Brayne involving the health and care of older people. Professor Brayne’s work also focused on identifying key risk factors for problems such as dementia and the ability to predict the “health life expectancy” of an individual, which is of increasing interest as the cost of looking after the elderly increases. Dr David Oliver, the national clinical director for older people showed a great deal of interest in this work. The national dementia strategy is currently under review and a new focus on prevention and prediction is being implemented for which this research is of great interest. A dialogue between Professor Brayne and Dr Oliver was created and already Dr Oliver has passed on some of the research to individuals who are leading the policy review.

While this proved to be a fruitful connection, we did encounter a number of issues. We encountered some academics who were reluctant to share their work with policy makers. Some were sceptical about the policy process and felt that their work would not be taken seriously. Others were reluctant to discuss work that they considered incomplete.

Organisations such as the Centre for Science and Policy play a vital role in providing a pathway to policy impact for research, helping researchers to overcome these sorts of concerns and supporting successful engagement activities. We hope that our project went some way to raising the awareness of the vital role that science can play in policy and the value that researchers can bring to the policy process.