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Dr Geoff Bates and policy engagement

Via 'TRUUD', Geoff is developing a research project alongside policymakers. Learn more about how he has engaged policymakers in this process.

Geoff Bates next to a web of graphics demonstrating his research and engagement activities
Dr Geoff Bates has been actively involved in policy engagement

Dr Geoff Bates is a Lecturer and Deputy Director of Studies at the IPR. He has been actively involved in policy engagement, including working with Government Departments and writing policy briefs and blogs.

Tell us about your research and expertise

"My research focuses on understanding and improving public health and health policies. A common theme in my research is exploring how to engage policy officials, health practitioners and the public with evidence and research findings to galvanize action to improve public health. I am interested in how we can address the wider determinants of health and understanding the effectiveness and implementation of policies and interventions.

"Currently I am working on 'Tackling the Root causes Upstream of Unhealthy Urban Development' (TRUUD) — a major, multi-university project including Bath — that aims to improve how health is prioritised in decision-making that shapes the urban environment; and research seeking to tackle the influence of corporations on public health.

"I also have long-standing research interests in climate change and sustainability, substance use – in particular the use of image and performance enhancing drugs such as anabolic steroids - and effective provision of health services."

How is your work relevant to policymakers?

"In TRUUD, I am part of a team whose research aims to increase the visibility of health outcomes in national government's urban development policies, such as in housing and regeneration programmes. Specifically, it intends to increase capacity and receptiveness in Whitehall to include health outcomes in urban development funding and policy decisions by integrating a new economic valuation tool we have developed — 'Health Appraisal for Urban Systems (HAUS)' — into the decision-making processes of the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC).

"We are collaborating closely with DLUHC's Analysis & Data Directorate. Our research can help to address gaps in how currently available tools in DLUHC can understand health impacts and their economic implications."

For further information see: Government and policy engagement; Areas of Research Interest (ARIs); Stakeholder mapping

How have you engaged policy professionals with your research?

"In Whitehall, we have engaged with officials in several departments, primarily in the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC), but also others including HM Treasury, Department of Health & Social Care, National Audit Office and Department for Transport. These opportunities came after a proactive effort to generate interest in our work. This included sharing what our research can offer through responding to departmental Areas of Research Interest and delivering a webinar to government officials as part of DLUHC's research seminar series. We also submitted research findings from TRUUD in response to calls for evidence such as the Prevention in Health and Social Care Inquiry, have written commentaries such as in The Conversation, and reached out directly to a range of teams in Whitehall to request meetings.

"We’ve also developed short policy briefs to accompany these requests, such as one discussing our research focus and one introducing the HAUS economic valuation tool. These approaches have helped us to raise awareness about our work, to develop relationships with relevant teams in Whitehall, and to establish the credibility of our research."

Also see: Government consultations and evidence requests; Select committees and APPGs; Areas of Research Interest (ARIs); Policy briefs

How have you worked with the IPR on policy engagement?

"I work within the IPR as part of the TRUUD project. However, in addition to this I have had the opportunity to meet several policymakers through the IPR's Policy Fellowship Programme, primarily on health-related topics. These have been useful opportunities to share my research in TRUUD and beyond, but also to understand from the Fellows what the important issues that policymakers are facing and what are their priorities.

"It has been interesting to understand more about how my research and the ideas and concepts it involves fits into other policy areas too. For example, in my previous research I used models to understand use of 'image and performance enhancing drugs', such as anabolic steroids or tanning agents. In a recent meeting with a Policy Fellow who was doing work around UK residents travelling abroad for surgeries, we identified clear overlaps in how we can understand these very different behaviours. I would encourage anyone who has the opportunity to engage in the Programme to do so.

"Also, I have written many pieces for IPR's blog to help promote the findings of my research to accompany new academic publications and to respond to policy developments. This has helped me to make contacts within the University and beyond where people with overlapping interests to my own, or working on similar research, have read the blogs and got in touch. I find writing for different audiences helpful to not only engage more widely than is possible through academic publications, but because it forces you to think about how to effectively communicate messages and evidence with policy audiences."

Also see: Stakeholder mapping; IPR Policy Fellowship Programme; Communicating research for policy audiences

What methods of engagement have been most successful?

"The policy engagement we have had in TRUUD has not been the result of any one approach. Rather, it is reflective of our efforts over a number of months to raise our profile in DLUHC and beyond and to reach out to many different teams.

"We have reflected that several factors have been important for successful engagement. For example, demonstrating clearly how our research will help policymakers deliver against important agendas and connect to other work they are doing, providing accessible policy briefs, and being flexible and accommodating to busy officials. Throughout the process, demonstrating the strength, relevance and credibility of our evidence has been critical to build the trust and confidence in our research needed to develop opportunities for collaboration."

What has happened as a result?

"We came to an agreement with DLUHC’s Analysis and Data Directorate to explore how we could integrate the HAUS tool in their economic appraisals. This led to the co-development of a work plan for delivery. We are currently undertaking a series of activities towards adopting HAUS for use in the department and for influencing policy setting using evidence and learnings from the TRUUD project.

"This work is ongoing, but if successful it would increase capacity in DLUHC to include health outcomes in appraisals and funding decisions, and raise the visibility of health impacts in policy setting. We know that continuing to engage effectively with our partners in Whitehall will be a key factor in this success."

Also see: Government and policy engagement; Devolved regional and local government and policy engagement

What have you learnt about the process of policy engagement?

"Our experiences in TRUUD have been enhanced by the willingness and enthusiasm of our partners in DLUHC and of the other stakeholder groups we have engaged with in this process to engage with research and evidence. Throughout the process we have noticed the openness of policy officials working outside of the health sector, and under pressure to deliver on a range of agendas, to approaches that could improve public health.

"Developing connections and opportunities in Whitehall has not been straightforward, however, and progress has been slower in some areas than others. Policymakers cannot engage with every research team that tries to reach them and must be selective about who they explore opportunities with.

"Identifying an interested contact who can act as a gatekeeper within an organisation is helpful to build your networks and spread the word of your research. Ideally, they will be well-connected themselves with the policy teams you want to reach and have a good understanding of who is the best individual to reach out to."

What advice would you give to others?

  1. Evidence and clearly articulate the problem that you want to address and why a policy audience should care about it
  2. Be flexible and adaptive in how you engage stakeholders; it is important to demonstrate to them how your research will help deliver their goals, and those of their department.
  3. Develop clear messages about the potential impact of your research and how it relates to existing agendas and objectives of policymakers, and present these in accessible formats, such as policy briefs, videos and short presentations.
‘Policymakers cannot engage with every research team that tries to reach them... Identifying an interested contact who can act as a gatekeeper within an organisation is helpful to build your networks and spread the word of your research.’
Dr Geoff Bates Lecturer and Deputy Director of Studies, IPR

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