Since its launch at the beginning of 2019, the Scottish Policy & Research Exchange has worked with the University of the Highlands and Islands and other partners to improve the flow of evidence, expertise and scholarly analysis from the academy to the world of policy. We have so far focused particularly on establishing the networks and building the tools to increase policy engagement capacity in Scottish HEIs.
SPRE in 2019-2020?
Our first 18 months have seen 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 have also established Scotland’s first nationwide network of knowledge brokers and the first overarching database of governmental and parliamentary inquiries anywhere in the UK.
We are conscious of the need to work with partners to deliver significant and lasting change in how policymakers use academic research. So far, we have established relationships 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 and SUPER doctoral training partnerships. Over the next twelve months, we aim 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 and worked with Audit Scotland, the Improvement Service and others.
Colleagues at UHI have enthusiastically engaged with SPRE, most notably through our training activities and in signing up to the Brokerage, which provides details of impact opportunities including a weekly roundup of governmental and parliamentary inquiries. The opportunity to deliver training at the doctoral conference in Thurso was a particular highlight but we have more recently provided an online training webinar for UHI researchers and also through our own webinars and collaborations with MASTS, SGSSS and SGSAH .
The last year has also provided opportunities for SPRE to support direct engagement between UHI researchers and policy professionals, most notably calls from the Scottish Government and UK Parliament. UHI researchers and professional services staff have also made extensive use of SPRE’s digital tools. Finally, as part of a series of short films, we had the opportunity to record the journey of one UHI doctoral candidate as she connected with policy for the first time, doing so resulted in her writing a blog for the Scottish Parliament.
Partnerships for Policy
Prior to the CoVid-19 pandemic, activities in digital space already 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, 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 first steps into digital space involved setting up a curated blog. More recently we have established a popular series of training webinars for early career researchers – so far featuring speakers from the RSE and Scottish Natural Heritage – the Brokerage network and inquiries service, and a series of short films. These, along with the toolkit mentioned above, are available to all of our partners to support and develop their own researchers.
“As a young university, with aspirations for high quality research that is recognised nationally and internationally, and with marked success in external assessment of that quality (REF 2014 and PRES 2017), training and development of research-active staff and students is a key element of our strategy to achieve those ambitions.“
Highlands and Islands Regional Tertiary Outcome Agreement 2019-20
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.
By working with both policy and research in this way, we seek to build partnerships for the long term and influence the way policy is fashioned in Scotland. It is this approach that will best allow our institutional partners, as well as individual scholars and policy professionals, to deepen their understanding of each other’s needs and develop trusting, robust relationships.