Since its launch at the beginning of 2019, the Scottish Policy & Research Exchange has worked with the University of Stirling 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.
What has SPRE done 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.
“SPRE provides invaluable support for the University of Stirling, building capacity among our researchers to pursue effective and meaningful engagement with policymakers. The combination of expertise and resources helps to deliver lasting impact and ensure that research makes a difference where it matters most.”
Matthew Francis, Public Affairs Manager, University of Stirling.
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.
Roughly half of our interactions with the University of Stirling have been with the Faculty of Social Sciences, roughly a quarter with natural sciences and the remainder with the wider university. This ratio would, broadly, be reflected across Scotland. Our most common interactions with Stirling have been through our digital network (including social media, newsletter and the Brokerage). We have conducted two training sessions so far at Stirling and would welcome the opportunity to conduct more. We have also arranged for academics from Stirling to engage directly with officials from Audit Scotland and the Scottish Parliament, as well as MSPs.
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, 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 (Stirling’s blogs are here). 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 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.
“Ensure that our research activities are innovative and transformative, creating demonstrable impact that has reach and significance. [By] sustaining and enhancing partnerships with policy makers, communities of practice and the public, engaging them in the research process [and] delivering research-based solutions to societal challenges and communicating the difference our research makes.”
University of Stirling Research Strategy 2015 – 2021
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. 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.
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. We believe 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.