The Forum: Our initiative to connect Imperial’s researchers with policy-makers.

By Professor Nick Jennings, Vice Provost (Research and Enterprise).

Imperial’s research has a fantastic track record of achieving impact. Making our voice heard in important policy debates and providing policy-makers with knowledge and expertise is an essential part of this. With our science and policy engagement programme The Forum, we are building on our successes and maximising opportunities for all Imperial researchers to engage with policy and policy-makers.

This is timely due to growing demand in government for engagement with academics as part of ensuring policy has a sound evidence-base. On taking the job, the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Valance made clear his view that “Science, engineering and technology have a vital role to play at the heart of policy-making”. Indeed, in my time as Chief Scientific Adviser for National Security I saw first hand the vital role that science can play in policy and in government more widely. Yet a detailed report on collaboration between government and academia by the influential think tank the Institute for Government found that “government often struggles to draw on academia effectively in forming policy”. Imperial through The Forum stands ready to help. I will be hosting a Q&A with Sir Patrick on 10 July to formally launch The Forum and would be delighted to see you there.

How is The Forum going to make a difference?

The Forum will connect our research community and decision-makers to help find innovative solutions to the challenges governments face. Over its first few months The Forum ran successful workshops on food and nutrition, air quality, data privacy, personalised medicine and vaccines which brought policy-makers and academics together. In 2019 The Forum has focused on the Grand Challenges identified in the Government’s Industrial Strategy – AI and data, Clean Growth, Ageing Society and the Future of Mobility. All areas where Imperial has world leading research. In March we ran a workshop on AI and health, in May on AI and the future of work. In June we will run one on the decarbonisation of industry. More will follow. These workshops allow policy-makers to build networks at a world-leading university. By connecting them with Imperial researchers we will allow them to access the latest evidence, helping them to shape truly evidence-based public policy.

Imperial is already influencing policy debates. Last year Imperial’s Computational Privacy Group, led by Dr Yves-Alexandre de Montjoye – who took part in the workshop on data privacy – persuaded the government to make changes to the Data Protection Bill in 2017, making the case for alterations to plans to criminalise re-identification from anonymised data sets. Imperial research has also made an impact on policy debates on the world stage. For example at this year’s World Economic Forum meeting in Davos Dr Audrey de Nazelle, Dr Laure de Preux and Dr Marc Stetter presented work on the growing problem of air pollution, having previously taken part in the workshop on air quality last June.

What does The Forum offer Imperial researchers?

The Forum will aim to take Imperial researchers on a journey that will have long-lasting impact. They will build their fundamental knowledge and confidence in engaging with decision-makers, which will help them to build their profile as the ‘go-to’ experts in their fields – locally, nationally and internationally. To support this process we run monthly policy engagement seminars which give an introduction to engaging with government in the UK; and we are adding to that offer with lunchtime policy writing clinics which started in April. Additional sessions will follow soon.

So in summary, The Forum provides Imperial researchers with the opportunity to:

  • Present and discuss their research with civil servants and others working in relevant fields across government departments at our workshops.
  • Take part in bespoke internal training to enhance their knowledge of how to engage with policy-makers at our seminars and clinics.
  • Access a suite of tailored online resources that will help researchers communicate with policy-makers.

For those interested in engaging with policy, I recommended singing up to our internal policy bulletin which will signpost engagement opportunities. You can also follow The Forum on Twitter, @imperial_forum. And do get in touch with The Forum team if you have any ideas or questions.

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