Case study 2023: Diane Coyle

Bennett Professor of Public Policy, University of Cambridge

Professor Dame Diane Coyle is Bennett Professor of Public Policy at the University of Cambridge and a member of CSaP’s Advisory Council. A highly valued member of the expert community engaging with CSaP Fellows, here Diane discusses her work and the mutual benefits that emerge from that engagement.

One of the distinctive things about the Bennett Institute is that it embraces an interdisciplinary approach to research and also sees close engagement with policy as an inherent part of its work.

Across the breadth of the Institute’s research, we are always seeking real policy impact

For example, my work on cost-benefit analysis (CBA) made the case for recommendations from CBA to take place within the context of prevailing Government strategy. This led to a revision of the Treasury ‘Green Book’ . Previously appraisals had led to a bias in projects towards the South-East whereas the revision meant they had to recognize the context of the Government’s levelling up ambitions. The Bennett Institute’s research also informs policy design at an international level. For example, our recommendations about natural capital measurement contributed to the Biden-Harris Administration announcement that the US would measure natural capital for the first time.

Since its foundation, the Bennett Institute has had a close relationship with CSaP

They are in many ways two sides of the same coin. The Institute’s research is policy-relevant, and this perspective is informed by talking directly to policy makers. CSaP provides a valuable service by facilitating contact between the Institute’s researchers and Policy Fellows and it also supports the dissemination of our research through its network. CSaP’s network—that stretches even beyond Whitehall—is its most valuable asset. Opportunities to engage with this network through meetings with Policy Fellows lets us bring together research and implementation.

CSaP provides contacts and access to people we may need to reach but do not know

CSaP has invested over many years in building trusted relationships, and this environment of trust is an incredible asset that builds a reputation that has passed down the cohorts in Whitehall. There are not many universities that have managed to create that trusted environment.

"If you are interested in policy at all, then you need to understand how policies are implemented by talking to the people who are doing the implementation – if you are recommending something that cannot be implemented, your analysis is wrong.”

I am very interested in why there is such short-termism in policy decisions, which we see all the time as evidenced by recent announcements concerning HS2. Participation in roundtable discussions with policy makers through CSaP’s Policy Workshop initiative has informed my understanding about why it is so hard to get strategic policy decisions made in the UK. These are important forums where policy makers are able to speak more freely, and this kind of direct line helps inform our research.

"It is the granularity of the information you get that informs my research, and the particular insights gained from those one-on-one encounters with people.”

I have met many Policy Fellows over the years, including some who have become Affiliated Researchers at the Bennett Institute, reiterating the mutually reinforcing relationship between CSaP and the Bennett. These meetings are of real value to both parties. They put us in touch with policy makers and in turn these policy makers benefit from our expertise. I recall one meeting with an MP who said the Fellowship gave him an opportunity to think about policy areas that have subsequently become his brief. Many Fellows have emphasised how these meetings give them an opportunity to step outside the daily grind to create space to think in a more distanced way about the issues they are trying to solve.

CSaP’s networks are not only outward facing; the constructive relationship between the Bennett Institute and CSaP was important for navigating within the University itself as it signposted us towards other policy interested academics from different departments.

One standout moment for me was this year’s Dr S T Lee Public Policy Lecture delivered by Professor Melissa Leach on ‘Naturekind: More-than-Human Communication, Ecology and the Politics of Science and Policy’. More than anything else, it was intellectually exciting and cut across disciplines.