Policy Fellows FAQs

Questions about the Fellowship and its operation

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1. Am I the right person to be a Policy Fellow?

If your job requires you to think about complex problems and major issues facing society – whether it be sustainability, innovation, risk and resilience, behaviour, well-being, development and economic growth, or similar challenges – and your work influences decision-making in your Department or organisation, then you will have questions which we can help you address.

You will need to be open-minded, ready to be challenged, and prepared to, as one of our Fellows described it, "drink from an intellectual firehose".

2. What is unique about the Policy Fellowships Programme?

The Centre for Science and Policy is the first organisation in the UK to recognise that the critical issue which needs to be tackled in the research/policy interface is the relationship between researchers and policy makers, and the critical enabler to this relationship is that it be demand-led, not supply-led. Before any kind of research can have an impact, the academics and the policy professionals have to understand, trust and respect one another.

The Fellowship provides a unique opportunity to tackle these needs head-on, not through institutional connections but through personal introductions that bring research and policy face-to-face. CSaP is uniquely privileged in the way that the University and other organisations have allowed us to provide access to thought-leaders across all disciplines, and Cambridge is a perfect location to offer a space to think away from the day-job but with the best research around every corner.

While Cambridge is famous for its science, technology and innovation, it is also home to all the other disciplines whose contributions challenge and inspire our Fellows.

3. What will my Fellowship involve?

Every Fellowship is unique, determined by the questions a Fellow asks and the opportunities he or she chooses to develop. At the earliest opportunity in your two-year Fellowship, you will spend five days in Cambridge, usually in two or more visits.

These will be five intense days, filled with mostly one-to-one meetings with as many as 25 to 30 researchers chosen for the relevance of their work to the questions you define, and also for the heterogeneity of perspectives and multidisciplinary insights they bring. Many of the opportunities open to you in the rest of the Fellowship will be identified during these meetings, and will vary widely from Fellow to Fellow.

4. What level is the Fellowship aimed at?

The core Policy Fellowship scheme is designed to meet the needs of senior civil servants (in Whitehall terms, Directors and Deputy Directors; in European Commission terms, Heads of Unit and Policy Officers), and of senior policy professionals in industry such as Heads of Strategy, Research Directors, Public Policy Directors, VPs Innovation, or CIOs.

The Junior Policy Fellowship is aimed at early career policy professionals (in Whitehall terms, Fast Streamers in their third or fourth years). The Policy Leaders Fellowship is aimed at the most senior officials (such as Directors General) and CEOs.

5. Which researchers will I meet?

CSaP will be guided by your questions in choosing which researchers to approach, but prepare to be surprised by some of the connections we make – what you think is a question for one discipline is often just as interestingly approached from another. CSaP has the unique privilege of being able to arrange meetings in all Departments and disciplines at Cambridge, in related institutions and businesses, and in other universities. If there are any specific members of our network that you would want to see included, please let us know.

6. Will I only meet Cambridge researchers?

Not necessarily. The University of Cambridge has immense convening power, and where we identify experts outside Cambridge who have uniquely powerful perspectives on your questions, we will seek to make introductions.

Within Cambridge you may also meet visiting scholars, practitioners and business people from CSaP's extended network, depending on the nature of your questions. Some Fellowships will involve days spent at affiliate universities and institutions, and in many cases we will also arrange meetings in London.

7. Will I meet other members of the Fellowship?

Yes – though not necessarily in your initial visit, except when there happen to be other Fellows visiting at the same time. You'll meet other Fellows at our events, including our monthly working lunches in London, Annual Reception and Annual Conference, and at any CSaP workshops, seminars or lectures you attend.

If you want to approach other Fellows for one-to-one meetings we will be pleased to arrange this – we find that Fellows generally welcome such approaches. We also offer a buddy system so that existing Fellows can pass on their experience of the Fellowship to those newly elected.

8. Why do the researchers do it?

The Policy Fellowships Programme is very much a two-way process. Just as important as the insights and challenges to thinking which it delivers to policy makers are the benefits for academia – the opportunities to learn first-hand about the needs and perspectives of government, and insights into the role of evidence alongside other factors in policy making.

Researchers get the opportunity for their work to make a difference in decision making at the highest levels of government and industry. Moreover support for evidence-based policy, and improvement of the policy-making process, are also valid pathways to impact for research which are taken into account in assessments of the University's work.

9. What kinds of questions can Fellows ask?

We will ask you to propose up to half a dozen concise questions, capturing the difficult challenges that present themselves to you in your job. There is no prescription for these questions; all we say is that they should be the kind of questions which in principle could be answered by research (though they can include questions for which the relevant research has not yet been done), and broad enough to be amenable to be approached from a number of standpoints.

In the case of Policy Fellows from industry, questions must relate primarily to public policy challenges of core interest to the network, and not the commercial interests of the Policy Fellow.

10. What questions have previous Fellows asked?

The most important thing about your questions is that they are unique to you – and indeed that is much of the reason why researchers are interested in helping you to answer them. Nonetheless, we're often asked about the questions previous Fellows have asked, if only to illustrate the kinds of questions that work most effectively, so we have chosen a sample here.

11. How much time can Fellows expect to be away from office? What is the likely time cost associated with the Fellowship?

Your initial commitment of time is for five days in Cambridge, with reflection time after each visit (we recommend you schedule between one and four hours per visit). We will meet with you twice to support your Fellowship – once within the first year and once at its conclusion. We also hope you will join us at our one-day Annual Conference in London, and our Annual Reception, in each of your two years.

Apart from these scheduled activities, how much time you spend directly on Fellowship activity will be a function of the value that you derive from it. Some Fellows are very regular visitors to Cambridge for our lectures, policy workshops and professional development seminars. Others pursue their interests by applying what they have learned directly within the day-job. We aim to support effective impact in either case.

12. Am I required to produce a written deliverable?

CSaP asks all Fellows to produce a short (one-page) summary of their Fellowship visit to Cambridge, as part of the structured reflection process following your visit, during which you will also complete a short digital record.

CSaP does not require a particular output resulting from your Fellowship, apart from the commitment to two meetings to discuss and support your Fellowship – one within the first year and one at its conclusion. Apart from this, you decide on the results you are aiming to produce, and we help to design and support the Fellowship around these aims.

13. Should I come to Cambridge for five days or should I split this into two visits?

We have learnt from experience that Fellows value the flexibility and opportunities for reflection offered by spreading the five days of meetings across two or more visits to Cambridge, and Fellowships are usually organised this way. After your election, you will be offered the opportunity to express preferences regarding the duration and intensity of your visit to Cambridge.

14. When can I come to Cambridge?

Fellows visit Cambridge to meet researchers during the academic terms, usually from mid January to mid March; from late April to late June; and from late September to early December. We prefer to have at least six weeks lead-time to arrange meetings with researchers. We will work with you to schedule your visits around your other commitments.

15. If I use up my five days right at the beginning, can I come back for more?

Yes. We will be pleased to arrange a sixth day of meetings at any time in your Fellowship for you to revisit your questions in follow-up meetings or with new contacts to explore new angles. You may also have the opportunity to spend this Day 6 at an affiliated institution as part of the CSaP Affiliate Network.

16. What will it cost?

See How to become a Policy Fellow for current enrolment fees. In addition to the enrolment fee, a charge of £500 is made to cover College accommodation and travel within Cambridge during the initial visit, though you are free to arrange your own accommodation independently if you prefer. Meals are not included. Travel between London and Cambridge costs between £30 and £50 depending on the time of your journey. Car parking in Cambridge is expensive and you will not need a car while you are here, so we recommend coming by train.

17. What specific outcomes could result from the Fellowship?

Policy Fellows join a community of people who share a desire to improve policy making through the use of evidence and an openness to new ideas. Fellows build personal networks of experts and influencers who are relevant to the issues they face today – and who will be available when those issues change in the future – through a unique tailored programme of meetings.

These relationships are built upon mutual understanding, trust and respect. Participants have the opportunity to come together on this basis to address critical problems, particularly in bespoke policy workshops which represent a "safe space" to explore difficult challenges.

Fellows gain time to think in an intellectually stimulating environment, away from the usual limits created by the pressures – and perspectives – of work. As a result (they tell us) they are challenged and enabled to think differently about their policy responsibilities, and this feeds directly into their policy making.

18. What other types of benefits can be expected?

Expect the unexpected. You will meet people you would otherwise never meet. You will discover research you didn't know was being done. You will be challenged by approaches and perspectives you have never thought of. Our tailored arrangements around your specific questions create the perfect conditions for serendipitous meetings and meetings of minds. You will return to your home organisation with new insights, new approaches, and a range of prestigious connections to draw on as you develop your thinking.

19. How will my department or organisation benefit?

Many of the benefits of the Fellowship accrue in the form of learning and development, and the ideas generated are often shared with – and have direct relevance for – team members and senior decision-makers. You will build links which your organisation can exploit with the UK's top research teams, giving access to intellectual and knowledge resources across the whole University: meetings often lead to links between researchers others within Fellows’ organisations.

Fellows regularly invite researchers they have met to visit their Departments to present their work or develop discussions around relevant research, participate in advisory bodies or knowledge transfer activities, or bring their colleagues into workshops or other events in the University. Your organisation will also have the opportunity to host students from the Cambridge Master's in Public Policy course on their Work Placement module, and to partner with or sponsor CSaP to deliver bespoke workshops or public events.

20. What is the role of Policy Fellows from industry?

Industry and corporate Fellows have formed an important part of the Policy Fellowship since its inception in 2010, when members of the first cadre of Policy Fellows included senior managers from BP and Pfizer. The inclusion of Fellows from business is in direct response to advice received at the outset from senior Whitehall policy makers, who recommended that discussions of policy challenges would be enriched by including relevant decision-makers and influencers in businesses most involved.

The objective for CSaP is to ensure that the network can support joined-up policy discussions in the light of all the interests involved, particularly on themes such as security, energy, sustainability, risk, innovation policy, regulation, health, education and emerging technologies; in all these areas, policy makers have impressed upon us the importance of research evidence being shared with decision-makers in both industry and government, and of research being informed by a full understanding of the interests of public policy and economic actors.

FAQs from researchers who meet with Policy Fellows can be viewed here.