Since its launch at the beginning of 2019, the Scottish Policy & Research Exchange has worked with the University of St Andrews and other partners to improve the flow of evidence, expertise and scholarly analysis from the academy into the world of policy. We have built new networks, developed tools in digital and real space and provided training to over 2000 scholars across Scotland.
What has SPRE done in 2019-2021?
Our first 18 months saw us launch the first phases of our training activity in real and digital space, which will be further enhanced when we launch our ‘policy toolkit’ later this summer. During this time, we established Scotland’s first nationwide network of knowledge brokers and the first overarching database of governmental and parliamentary inquiries anywhere in the UK.
We work with scholars and professional services staff at all of Scotland HEIs and worked with the Universities Scotland Researcher Development & Training Committee and the SGSSS, SGSAH, MASTS and SUPER doctoral training partnerships.
Since the outbreak of the pandemic last year, we have helped governments and parliaments reach out to scholars, notably as part of the International Public Policy Observatory. We have worked with the Scottish and Irish Governments to create a new fellowship giving officials from both greater access to Scottish research (p25). We have recently hired a new member of staff to establish a network of Academic Engagement Champions throughout the Scottish policy community.
“It opened up a new avenue of research and policy I hadn’t thought I had access to.”
“Concrete tips on whom to contact and how to think about how our research could be useful for policy-makers (or not!).”
“Clear, very practically orientated and eminently useful.”
Training session participants
Networks and activities
SPRE has established networks throughout the worlds of policy and research in Scotland. While remaining focused on the social sciences and the core policy institutions of the Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament, we have connected with scholars in other disciplines, agencies such as Audit Scotland and the Improvement Service, and now provide opportunities for Scottish researchers to connect with all of the UK’s governments.
Colleagues at St Andrews have enthusiastically engaged with SPRE in digital space and making use of our training opportunities. We have recently run training activities for MASTS, the Knowledge Exchange and Communications Network, the Student Development Office, and the Department of Philosophy’s CEPPA centre. St Andrews staff and doctoral students have also attended our training events in digital space, recently featuring the Scottish Government’s Chief Social Researcher Audrey MacDougall and NatureScot’s Sally Thomas and Des Thompson.
Additionally, we have been a part of two funding bids led by Dr Catherine Jones and co-sponsored a seminar on policy engagement with the Research Unit for Research Utilisation.
We were also pleased to be able to support some undergraduates from St Andrews in giving evidence to the Scottish Affairs Committee at Westminster, joining the Model Arctic Council initiative and, most recently, advising a group from the Global Challenge Programme on establishing a student think tank.
Partnerships for Policy
Prior to the CoVid-19 pandemic, activities in digital space made up a large part of SPRE’s output. The transition to an exclusively digital operation was far less traumatic than it was for many organisations.
Based on what we have learned in the last few months, we will take a ‘digital first’ approach even as lockdown restrictions are lifted. This will allow us to make greater use of video and audio resources (such as this one featuring St Andrews doctoral graduate Laura Roe), as well as greatly expanding our reach for training activities. We will also be launching our own online policy toolkit before the end of the summer.
Our popular parliamentary and government inquiries service will be relaunched in the next few months to allow scholars and knowledge exchange professionals to search content by topic area.
“Across the University, and where it is right, we will enable investors, industry, and policy makers to work alongside researchers and students to deliver the kind of innovative thinking required to assemble disruptive ideas to overcome major challenges.”
University of St Andrews Outcome Agreement 2019 – 2020
Securing the Future
Since its inception, SPRE has recognised the need to work in partnership with the HEIs and policy institutions that comprise its network. We have developed the tools and relationships to build capacity on the ‘supply side’ of that relationship within the academy and we anticipate this continuing to grow in the years ahead. Over the next 12 months we will work to expand and strengthen our networks on the ‘demand side’ in government and other policy institutions.
Over the next year we will work with the Scottish and Irish Governments to pilot a joint fellowship programme that would see pairs of officials from both governments meeting with scholars from across Scotland and Ireland to address policy questions of mutual interest. We will also work to establish a network of academic engagement champions in policy institutions.
We will continue to work within academic and policy networks to identify and promote research and analysis that helps Scotland and the wider UK rebuild economically, culturally and socially following the devastation of the pandemic and the resulting lockdown. We will continue to help HEIs including St Andrews build their own capacity to work with policy through training, the provision of digital and other tools, and building networks and opportunities for engagement.