Boosting Policy Engagement Through OPEN Leaders

Cervantee Wild was a 2022 recipient of the OPEN Leaders award to stimulate policy engagement activities within the Department of Primary Care Health Sciences. Here she talks about her recent experiences convening a series of talks for early- and mid-career researchers, and encourages other EMCRs to apply for a 2024 award.

Radcliffe Quarter buildingsDepartment of Primary Care Health Sciences
‘Mysterious’, ‘terrifying’, ‘daunting’… no, it’s not the basement of Radcliffe Primary Care. It’s policy engagement, one of those phrases that gets tossed around a lot but without much clarity. For many early- and mid-career researchers (EMCRs), policy engagement is something extra for their Principal Investigator to do, or else a policy brief that gets compiled at the end of the research project and launched optimistically into the ether to land in some busy civil servant’s inbox.

Policy engagement should be a central part of our work as academics and clinicians in primary care. Part of the Department research strategy includes “ensuring that the profile of our work is sufficiently high that it influences policy and that advances in the research base are implemented into practice”. There are already many members of the Department who engage frequently in policy processes and who have links with members of the policy-making community. Researchers from our Department make a difference through informing clinical guidelines, setting research priorities, contributing to legislation and policy and responding to parliamentary inquiries.

However, the extent of policy engagement seems to vary across the Department and is tied to particular individuals, with a knowledge and skills gap for EMCRs. My motivation to apply for the OPEN Leaders award was to learn more about these processes: how do you actually ‘do’ policy engagement, especially when you’re not a superstar professor with a large network?

Thanks to funding from OPEN, we were fortunate to hold several informal discussions with several of our Department’s researchers who are experienced in engaging with the policy making community, including Prof Sara Shaw, Associate Professor Jamie Hartmann-Boyce & Dr Ailsa Butler, Professor Susan Jebb, Professor Ben Goldacre and Jess Morley and engagement consultant Jamie Gallagher.

These informal talks sparked conversation about why policy engagement is important for research impact, who our most relevant stakeholders are, and how we should best engage with them. We had candid insights into the realities of being an honest broker ‘on call’ for policy makers, as well as the ins and outs of engaging with Westminster. With these insights, we are developing a toolkit to assist researchers with embedding policy engagement in their projects from their inception and support future policy engagement within the Department. Personally, it also kickstarted a growing interest and developing skills in policy engagement which I was able to use to successfully apply for an OPEN Fellowship later that year.

Have you got an idea to help drive an inclusive, supportive culture of policy engagement among staff and students? The 2024 OPEN Leaders funding is currently open for applications! Get in touch with Naomi Gibson (naomi.gibson@medsci.ox.ac.uk) or past OPEN Leaders award recipient Cervantée Wild (cervantee.wild@phc.ox.ac.uk) if you’d like to discuss your ideas.

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