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SPRE & University of Aberdeen

Since its launch at the beginning of 2019, the Scottish Policy & Research Exchange has worked with the University of Aberdeen 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 Activities 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 month. 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 also connected with scholars in other disciplines and worked with Audit Scotland, the Improvement Service and others. 

Colleagues at Aberdeen have engaged enthusiastically with SPRE in real and digital space, achieving the second largest number of interactions with SPRE compared to other HEIs. Scholars at the university have also responded to more calls from policymakers than at any other university. These have included engagement opportunities with the Scottish Government, Scottish Parliament and others on issues ranging from the circular economy and agriculture to the economic recovery from the Covid pandemic.

A particular highlight of 2020 was spending two days in Aberdeen conducting training sessions with both early-career and more established researchers at the Rowett Institute and in the School of Social Sciences, before meeting with KEI, communications and public affairs staff from across the university. Possibly because of these events, take up of resources such as the Brokerage has been relatively high at Aberdeen.

Partnerships for Policy

Digital Resources

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, as well as greatly expanding our reach for training activities. We will also be launching our own online policy toolkit before the end of September. 

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 for their own researcher development programmes. 

“The University is seeking to continue to strengthen the culture in which impact from excellent research is obtained through engagement with industry, business, the public sector, policy makers and other stakeholders.”


The University of Aberdeen
SFC 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. 

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.