Making an Impact on policy

by Hilary Snaith (Edinburgh Infectious Diseases (EID))

In November 2015 we were delighted to host a one-day policy workshop for more than 60 members of staff in the School of Biological Sciences and the Roslin Institute.  The aim of the event was explore what SBS-RI could do to build capacity to support the engagement of researchers with policy makers.   The event was supported by senior Vice-Principal Prof Charlie Jeffery, and Associate Principal Prof Susan Deacon, who have responsibilities for policy and corporate engagement at the University of Edinburgh.  They affirmed the University’s strong support of policy engagement and encouraged the participants to identify ways in which they can continue to build capacities to promote this work. 

The workshop brought together senior policy advisors from the Wellcome Trust, the Scottish Parliament Information Centre, UN Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre, the Royal Society of Biology and the Scottish Universities' Insight Institute, alongside researchers from SBS-RI and UoE staff involved in public engagement and stakeholder relations. In addition to University of Edinburgh staff, the event also attracted external participants from Scotland’s Rural College and the Scottish Parliament, to hear about the many different ways in which basic research can influence policy decision-making, and how researchers can best make their voices heard.  The programme can be seen here http://www.excellence-impact.bio.ed.ac.uk/making-impact-policy-workshop. 

The workshop concluded with an open discussion about the advice and opportunities presented, and how UoE can maximise its effectiveness at enabling staff to interact with policy makers.  Several proposals were made to help researchers identify opportunities for engagement, including better institutional coordination of activity, improved horizon scanning, and provision of training for researchers on how to communicate research in an accurate, but accessible, way to policymakers.

The event has provided momentum to continue to develop improved support for researchers, so that we can be more effective at ensuring that the excellent research in Edinburgh has impacts on relevant policy issues in the future.  For example, we have initiated a Science Policy Group which will develop the connections already made with policy makers nationwide and will focus on pertinent issues including synthetic biology and the use of genetically modified organisms in agriculture.  

If you are interested in contributing to the Science Policy Group, or finding out more about the ways in which your research could influence policy makers, please contact Helen Sang (helen.sang@roslin.ed.ac.uk) or Malcolm Walkinshaw (m.walkingshaw@ed.ac.uk).