Case study 2022: Esther Kwan

Head of the Covid-19 Inquiry Unit, Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities

Esther Kwan is Head of the Covid-19 Inquiry Unit in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC). Esther started her CSaP Policy Fellowship in 2020 and here she describes some of the benefits she gained from her experience of meeting with academics.

My work focuses on preparing the Department for the upcoming Covid-19 inquiry. It is incredibly important for the public to learn about and understand how decisions were made by the UK government during the pandemic.

I believe one of the main values of the CSaP Policy Fellowship is that it gives policy makers wide exposure to various academics working in several different disciplines, which for me, has been very beneficial. Several of the meetings I’ve had resulted in real and tangible outputs.

For example, I’m currently organising a series of ‘Lunch and Learns’ with Professor Catherine Barnard (Faculty of Law, University of Cambridge), which will focus on inclusive policy making. I hope to use these workshops to share the academic expertise that CSaP has made available to me with a wider audience of policy makers, and to create a space to continue conversations beyond the Policy Fellowship. This focus on inclusive policy making ties into the context of Covid-19, where there were disproportionate impacts on different communities. I’m interested in exploring how systems and structures could be developed to incorporate the lived experience of diverse groups into the policymaking process.

Through the Fellowship programme, I have made a vast number of new contacts. It’s great for policy makers to be tapped into academia; we often don’t have the luxury of time (on top of very busy workloads!) to follow the latest journal publications, academic articles, and so on. The scheme makes academic expertise more accessible from a practitioner’s perspective – it’s great to get a snapshot of a certain area of research, and to think about joining up academia and policymaking to make progress on shared objectives.

The great thing about being a part of the Policy Fellowships programme is that it allows knowledge dissemination to occur within government departments. For instance, I also met with Dr Koldo Casla (Lecturer in Law, University of Essex) who runs the Human Rights Centre Clinic, and I have been able to put him in touch with colleagues who are working on equalities issues.

More generally, I think on a day-to-day basis most of my work as a policy maker is quite ‘operational’. In this respect, the CSaP Policy Fellowship has been intellectually stimulating and a chance for me to step away for a couple of days and reflect on key policy issues from a multidisciplinary perspective. The opportunity to ‘tap into’ a network of expertise really is invaluable.