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Professor Christos Vasilakis and policy engagement

Christos has worked closely with healthcare policymakers across a range of areas, including in relation to Covid-19, maternity services and blood provision.

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

Christos Vasilakis is Professor and Chair in Management Science within the School of Management and Director of the Bath Centre for Healthcare Innovation and Improvement. His research has helped to inform policies related to healthcare in the UK and internationally.

Tell us about your research

“I am an expert in operational research, also known as management science and I conduct analytical, rigorous, and highly-applied research that generates both academic and practical impacts. I work in close collaboration with clinicians, healthcare professionals and managers, with the aim of developing and applying methods to help them better plan and deliver care services for patients.

“I am also interested in the evaluation of the likely impact of healthcare interventions and policy initiatives using mathematical modelling, systems thinking, systems modelling and computer simulation.”

How is your work relevant to policymakers?

“I’ve worked on a large number of problems – ranging from the monitoring of hospital infections to the organisation of services for patients with acute stroke, glaucoma or common mental health problems.

“More recently, much of my work has related to the pandemic. At the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, we conducted research around intensive care units, including quantifying the likely impact of different levels of capacity and admission criteria on avoidable deaths. We’ve also done a lot of work on evaluating strategies of blood provision in major trauma centres and facility location for maternity services.

“Even though it’s a wide range of projects, the overarching theme is that they are sourced by real-life problems and challenges that are faced by those delivering, organising and managing healthcare services.”

For further information see: What is policy engagement?

How have you engaged policy professionals with your research?

“There are a lots of different ways that we can engage policymakers. These include through unstructured discussions with policymakers where there is an open conversation about how academics can help. Through these meetings, you can scope out a research project in conjunction and in partnership with policymakers, rather than researchers doing that on their own.

“We also use structured methods, for example organising workshops where we invite a number of stakeholders to sit around the table or other more formal engagement methods. For example, we have used process mapping methods to map out a care pathway that patients are taking, or to help inform a discussion about a care pathway redesign or future policy direction. Otherwise we may do surveys, focus groups and on-to-one interviews, as seen in this paper to engage GPs and other stakeholders."

Also see: Stakeholder mapping; Policy events and roundtables.

Have you worked with the IPR on policy engagement

"I’ve participated in a number of meetings with policymakers through the IPR’s Policy Fellowship Programme and health stream. These have included one-to-one meetings with individuals working nationally, including for the Department for Health & Social Care, as well as locally and from the third sector.

"I think the value of these meetings is that they provide an opening and a way to build policy connections. It’s also an opportunity for shared learning: as academics we can talk about our own research projects which may be relevant to policymakers, but crucially we can hear from them too as to what are the current opportunities or obstacles they are facing. Following on from some of these meetings, I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to continue some of these conversations. Recently, for example, I shared work we are doing in the South West with NHS Integrated Care Boards with a team from the West Midlands."

Also see: The IPR Policy Fellowship Programme.

What methods of engagement have been the most successful?

"Fundamentally, I think it’s really important that policy relevant research is scoped out in partnership with policymakers in the broader sense. If the project has its own aims and objectives, and you’re then trying to link that up somehow with a policy relevant decision, that usually reduces the chance of success, as opposed to shaping the project in the early stages to address gaps in the policy, or questions that policymakers are facing. It’s always better to start from the problem faced by stakeholders, rather than trying to retrofit your research idea to the problem.

"I have found it is also important to develop a network, or tap into a network that someone else at the University has developed/maintains (such as through a Department, a Research Centre, an Institute, or similar). It can help also to participate in events that bring external people in contact with academics, eventually organising such events yourself. This is vital as becoming known to people creates opportunity for them to reach out to you when your expertise is relevant to a particular issue or project. I have found it extremely useful to keep in touch with external stakeholders at regular intervals."

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

What has happened as a result?

“At the University of Bath Centre for Healthcare Innovation and Improvement (CHI²) we have seen a number of healthcare policy impacts.

"One really applied project that we did was a regional project around the location of certain maternity facilities in the community. Our research informed the initial decisions by the regional health authorities, which was then put forward to public consultation. As a result, we have seen some change in where maternity services are located to ensure convenience to patients and maximise the efficient use of resources.

"Currently, we are working on a project that aims to alleviate the shortage of acute beds, resulting from delays in discharge to social care. So far, in collaboration with NHS Bath, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire (BNSSG) Integrated Care Board (ICB), the University of Exeter, and the University of Bristol, we have developed initial models for different aspects of the discharge pathway, which are now being piloted and have gained the support of local keys stakeholders across the BNSSG health and social care organisations."

What have you learnt about the process of policy engagement?

"Policy engagement cannot be done in half measures. If you want to engage with policymakers, and if you want to make a difference, it has to be resourced appropriately and enough effort and attention has to be allocated. Reversing through the process, if it is done as an afterthought, then most likely it’s not going to be effective or have the desired impact."

What advice would you give others?

  • Create a personal network of policy audiences and participate in this forum, whether this is online or in-person; not all participation will lead to fruitful connections, but some will.
  • The IPR is a great starting point for someone who wants to get started with developing a network for research to policy engagement.
  • Communication is key, but it needs to be tailored to suit the audience/stakeholder. Refine the main messages of your research and keep theoretical/methodological considerations to the minimum required. However, it is important to also explain the simplifications and limitations of your research.
‘Policy engagement cannot be done in half measures. If you want to engage with policymakers, and if you want to make a difference, it has to be resourced appropriately and enough effort and attention has to be allocated.’
Prof. Christos Vasilakis School of Management

Find out more about the Bath Policy Engagement Academy

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Get in touch with the IPR if you would like help and support with policy engagement.