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Lois Player and policy engagement

Throughout her PhD, Lois has been involved in numerous policy discussions about her research and also undertook a secondment with the Climate Change Committee.

Lois Player next to a web of graphics demonstrating his research and engagement activities
Lois Player has been actively involved in policy engagement

Lois Player is a Postgraduate Research Student in the Department of Psychology, and part of AAPS CDT. During her PhD at Bath she has been actively involved in policy engagement, including undertaking a secondment with the Climate Change Committee and working with various Local Authorities.

Tell us about your research and expertise

"Broadly, my research looks at the public acceptability of climate policies, primarily in transportation. My PhD studies this in the context of Clean Air Zones (CAZ) (also known as Low Emission Zones), looking at the types of people that might accept or oppose them, the reasons why, and studying longitudinal policy support. This involves tracking people’s support for CAZ over long periods of time to determine whether support before a policy is implemented is indicative of long-term support after the policy is implemented.

"I have also developed a new methodology to help national and local Governments analyse free-text data. Traditionally, governments will collect consultation data about a new policy and analyse it by hand, using a Thematic Analysis. This is often a time-consuming, expensive process which requires specialist skills. With colleagues, I have developed a Machine Learning methodology to simplify this process for governments. It builds on existing Natural Language Processing methods to extract the main themes in free-text data, and highlights the main concerns a community might have about an incoming policy. This is important in helping governments design fair, effective policies that suit their community, and are therefore well-accepted."

For further information see: What is policy engagement?

How is your work relevant to policymakers?

"My work is closely aligned with policymakers and the challenges that they face. I have spoken to a lot to local councils about the issues that they’re facing when implementing policies, specifically in transport, and I try to align my work closely with that.

"The methodology I am developing was born out of a conversation with Bristol City Council about analysing their consultation data, and the financial and time constraint issues they were having with this. The whole paper came about through working with local councils and policymakers, helping them to design a methodology that helped them understand their community’s concerns about a policy pre-implementation.

"More generally, my work helps policymakers identify the barriers that more vulnerable groups might face in accepting a climate policy, for example people on lower incomes or those living in rural areas. It is important to understand the needs of the community so that the policy is designed in a fair way and is well-accepted by the public – making it less likely to be withdrawn, redesigned or terminated."

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

How have you engaged policy professionals with your research?

"I have worked with a lot of local councils to help them understand the barriers that their community faces in accepting policies, and this has mainly taken place through discussions. I have also worked on consultancy projects with other councils.

"For example, I worked with Cornwall Council on a project looking at how to reduce car dependency amongst council employees. We used qualitative methods such as focus groups to understand the barriers that different groups faced, and whether those faced by council workers reflected the larger population.

"I have also worked with Bath and North East Somerset Council around implementing their CAZ. I worked to understand the public perceptions of the CAZ before it was introduced, using quantitative survey methodologies, but also semi-structured interviews with members of the public.

"I have also engaged on a more national level by working on secondment with the Climate Change Committee (CCC). There, I was looking to understand the role of people in Net Zero and how to make green choices easier, more default and more accessible to people. I also looked at the distributional impacts of climate policies and the perceptions of fairness in climate policy.

"Outside of my secondment, I worked with CAST on a consultancy project for the CCC, looking at the role of behaviour change in climate policymaking. This involved a literature review, policy recommendations report and expert stakeholder roundtable event."

Also see: Stakeholder mapping; Academic policy fellowships and placements; Policy briefs

How have you worked with the IPR on policy engagement?

"I recently took part in an IPR Policy Fellowship visit with a Policy Fellow from the Republic of Ireland Department of Transport who was interested in looking at facilitating modal shift and the barriers to this in rural Ireland.

"This was interesting as I was able to share insights from my previous research project with Cornwall Council, as the context in Cornwall is similar to that in rural Ireland in terms of the barriers people face in getting around. Since that meeting, the Fellow has maintained contact with me and, having digested some of the information, has requested a follow-up meeting for us to discuss it further."

What methods of engagement have been most successful?

"Before you do the research, it is a good idea to speak to relevant policymakers, to understand the problems they face, and design your research in a way that addresses those problems.

"During the dissemination stage, it is important to accessibly communicate your work. For example, when writing a policy report, keep in mind that not everyone has the headspace or time to digest a 100-page report. In the past, I have found it beneficial to host dissemination events. For example, when I was on secondment with the CCC we hosted a teach-in event, during which we discussed the findings of our report on the implications of using behavioural science insights in climate policy making. We invited over 200 people from government, NGOs, industry and academia and the programme was designed in a way to disseminate the research in a targeted way to relevant stakeholders.

"However, organising these events can be time-consuming, so I have also found it useful to write accessible policy briefings as a way of disseminating my research. For example, after the methodology paper I have been working on is written up in an academic journal, I will also write an accessible policy briefing and / or blog to disseminate the findings to the relevant people."

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

What has happened as a result?

"When engaging with policymakers, it is often difficult to measure the exact impact you’ve had. This is because it’s not completely transparent if policymakers have made a particular decision directly because of your research.

"However, our research for Bath & North East Somerset Council fed into their decision-making when implementing their CAZ. Similarly, the work we published with the CCC has contributed to the wider conversation about the need for behaviour change insights in climate policymaking, and that report will potentially feed into their recommendations to Government in their next Progress Report to Parliament.

"With Cornwall Council, we supported them in understanding the barriers their community faces in moving away from car use, which will likely inform their future local transport policies."

What has surprised you about the process of policy engagement?

"The transferability of seemingly very different contexts to each other. When advising the Republic of IrelandDepartment for Transport, I was surprised to see how many parallels there were between the work we did in Cornwall and the relevance to rural Ireland. It was great to see how learnings from one context could be applied to another.

"I have also been pleasantly surprised with how engaged people have been in the behaviour change / Net Zero space. I think it is a growing field and it is great to see policymakers become increasingly more engaged with the area. For example, the CCC have just started their own People and Net Zero Team, which I joined just two weeks after its conception whilst on my secondment."

Also see: IPR Policy Fellowship Programme

What advice would you give others?

  1. Take every opportunity to engage with policymakers, whether that’s speaking at events, going to a roundtable, or something else that bridges the gap between academia and policy.
  2. For early career researchers (ECRs), fellowship, secondments and placements in policy settings are amazing opportunities to understand what is happening on a national and local level in terms of policymaking and how they are using academic insights. It also helps you create a great network of policymakers to engage with in your future work. The UKRI policy internships are a great one for PhD students!
‘For early career researchers (ECRs), fellowship, secondments and placements in policy settings are amazing opportunities.’
Lois Player Postgraduate Research Student in the Department of Psychology

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