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Dr Jo Daniels and policy engagement

Whether presenting findings in Parliament, or taking a secondment within government, learn about how Jo Daniels has built policy engagement into her work.

Jo Daniels next to a web of graphics including: a survey, a roundtable, a presentation, Parliament, healthcare, and connections.
Dr Jo Daniels has been actively involved in policy engagement

Dr Jo Daniels is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Psychology at the University. Over recent years she has been actively involved in policy engagement – including writing POSTnotes and working with APPGs. Jo is currently on secondment to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC).

Tell us about your research and expertise

"My current research interests fall into two key themes, sitting within a broad umbrella of research into 'psychological distress in medical contexts'. More recently, I've been involved in pandemic-related research, particularly in relation to vulnerable or at risk groups, such as those shielding and the NHS Frontline workforce — the latter of which spans both wellbeing and retention within the NHS.

"In addition to my role as senior lecturer in clinical psychology at the University, I have also recently started an 18-month policy fellowship with the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC), which is funded by UKRI ESRC."

For further information see: Academic policy fellowships and placements

How is your work relevant to policymakers?

"Over the course of the pandemic, much of the research I did was around wellbeing of certain groups, such as doctors and those shielding from COVID-19. It was evident from our research that wellbeing and mental health were compromised, but there were few services or pathways to support them.

"This was very frustrating, but I think spurred me on to do more work focused on translating research into practice. I wrote a piece about this for the British Psychological Society. It was clear at this point that policymakers did want to develop guidance and services, but there was little research to inform these developments because we could not have fully anticipated the impact of the pandemic.

"I am continuing work on projects which look at existing evidence gaps in relation to NHS workforce and pandemic preparedness, as well as how we might address those gaps, and who might be key stakeholders in that work. I am then shaping my research programme in relation to plugging those gaps and doing so collaboratively with policymakers in different contexts."

Also see: Stakeholder mapping; Communicating research for policy audiences

How have you engaged with policy professionals with your research?

"It's been a real learning curve. I think most researchers have no idea where to start with engaging policymakers — and that was me when I first started doing policy relevant research.

"My engagement has been mostly facilitated through connections; being able to foster relationships with key stakeholders to get in the room. However, it's not just about getting in the room, but staying in the room - you have to prove your credibility once you are in there.

"This takes work, including very targeted engagement, being responsive, promotion of yourself and your research, and showing willing to be involved in a wide variety of opportunities just to build relationships or get your name known. For example, I've been recommended as a speaker at conferences, policy round tables and party conferences, and through that I have been able to speak directly to policymakers about my research and my views on the direction that I think things should be travelling.

"Recently, I've helped to author a POSTnote related to my research into COVID-19, written parliamentary briefings, and presented my research on the pandemic's impact on vulnerable groups to an APPG at Parliament.

"In terms of methods of engagement, I have considered what might be the best medium to engage specific policymakers, for some it might be a three-point e-mail, others an engaging infographic or animation — and all this is done through targeted engagement plans prior to dissemination.

"Before the pandemic, I was also an expert lead for the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), one of the Government's What Works Centres, and have been involved in many consultations."

Also see: Policy events and roundtables; Parliament's libraries and POST; Select Committees and APPGs; Government consultations and evidence requests; What Works Centres

Have you kept a record of your engagement?

"I've been very fortunate in that I've applied and been successful in securing University impact funding, so I have had a Research Assistant (RA) over the course of my secondment and sabbatical. My sabbatical was particularly focused on policymaker engagement and dissemination of research.

"Anything that cited the research or used the research in some ways — whether that be minutes of meetings, someone telling me they've used my work, or opportunities to disseminate my research - I would ask my RA to log it on Pure. I made sure that was done as soon as possible, otherwise, it is too easy for things to get lost or forgotten.

"To capture impact and pathways to impact, I have also sent out e-mails to people who I have engaged with explaining that my research can only continue with ongoing support, including feedback on how it has changed policy, including a link to a brief impact survey.

"Some policymakers have preferred to give feedback in impact interviews. I have eight full impact interviews so far, from different levels of policymakers. I think it's important to be flexible to the different ways policymakers prefer to give you and engage with feedback."

What methods of engagement have been most successful?

"What's been clear throughout this whole process is that you can't adopt a scattergun approach to engaging policymakers. You are not going to be effective unless you have the right connections and prove your credibility. It is also important to plan your interactions with policymakers; changing your methods to suit whoever you are engaging with.

"Using communications like infographics has been useful to ministers and policymakers, for example, as they don't have a lot of time to read a long research paper. Brief summaries and emails with two or three bullet points and keeping everything concise is also really useful. The success is in being able to read the policymaker and being able to get the communication right.

"I think you can't underestimate the importance of wider communications through social media and traditional media too. For me, getting my research covered in newspapers or speaking on radio has helped me to build my credibility and connections. Social media, X (formerly Twitter), specifically, has helped me to establish new policy connections and develop recognition as having expertise in this area."

Also see: Stakeholder mapping; Communicating research for policy audiences; Policy briefs

What has happened as a result?

"I think the answer is a long one, in terms of time — I will be able to answer that more fully a few years down the line when the research has been fully mobilised and utilised. I heard someone say once that it takes over ten years from publication to real patient impact, so it is important for me at the moment to differentiate between pathways to impact, and impact itself.

"However, I have had some clear successes, such as having one of our projects cited in the Long-Term Workforce Plan, as well as in the BPS Learning from the NHS Staff Mental Health and Wellbeing Hubs report. Other ways my research has been used is in forming the basis of Parliamentary Questions or sent to the Health Secretary for a formal response.

"But, in terms of examples of very tangible impact, as part of my research on workforce retention we identified that one of the key things the research revealed is that very basic needs at work were not being met, such as having an adequate rest space. So, we worked with a charity, the Healthcare Workers' Foundation, and refurbished some rooms to make them into rest spaces.

"We secured sofas, access to hot food, sleep pods and soft furnishings that we often take for granted but make a significant difference when you are working a 14-hours shift in an under-resourced and over-stretched emergency department. We've been able to demonstrate how these interventions have changed the quality of work life, something we have been able to capture in interviews and plan to share with others so they can engage the NHS in change."

Also see: Think tanks, advocacy groups, business and charities

What have you learnt about the process of policy engagement?

"I have learnt a huge amount, it is like taking on a whole new subject area of expertise. There is a lot to learn about policy engagement, but I have found it very stimulating and it has been getting great traction — even though it has been an uphill struggle at times. It has, however, inspired me to want to help to address that researcher-knowledge gap that I see around me. I put together a video explaining my top five tips for policy engagement, which I hope will be helpful to other researchers embarking on that journey.

"One of the main things I now realise is that effective policy engagement takes time and can be slow — sometimes you have to think several years ahead, even from the point of writing grant applications. It can, however, be a really rewarding process to see your research being used to help make a difference to people's lives.

"Throughout the process, what has been perhaps been one of the most crucial learning points has been learning the importance of properly documenting engagement, dissemination and activity — it is fundamental to following up those longer term pathways to impact."

What advice would you give others?

"If I could give three pieces of advices to others, I would say:

  1. From the outset, embed impact and engagement work into your research grants and project plans.

  2. Look for policy gaps and, where possible, conduct research that address these in a way that policymakers want to engage with. A useful way to do this is by asking yourself questions, such as: what gaps are already there in policy; who is this research relevant to; who would I be targeting; and, how might I approach them?

  3. Develop a clear dissemination and engagement strategy to enable you to work collaboratively with stakeholders, share your research, and increase your chances of policy impact."

‘It's not just about getting in the room, but staying in the room - you have to prove your credibility once you are in there.’
Dr Jo Daniels Senior Lecturer, Department of Psychology

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