Gemma Harper : Case Study

at Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra)


“CSaP creates a safe space for strategic thinking and connecting a wider variety of dots.”

25 October 2019

I embarked on my CSaP experience to strengthen the role of social science in government policymaking. Along the way, I have met a wide variety of academic experts from a range of disciplines and topics, all of whom brought something different to the conversation and the CSaP experience.

When you’re in government, the pressure is there to be reactive and responsive. As an evidence specialist, what I really value is bringing analytical thinking to government. What CSaP offers is the safe space and time to connect with a wide range of free thinkers who can come at the problems we are tackling from different perspectives or think beyond them to what may lie ahead. It has reminded me what a fantastic academic community we have in the United Kingdom, and has given me the opportunity to build my networks within it.

The academics I have spoken with through CSaP were extremely generous with their time. They were frank, honest, supportive, and instructive. It was a warm and welcoming atmosphere in which to learn. Someone even gave me a book!

There are certain academics, including Cambridge Emeritus Professor Susan Owens, that I met through CSaP who I feel I could phone up now for anything. They have been a source of advice to me during a period in which I have sought to build the role of social sciences in government and Defra, and as marine issues have grown in prominence to become the ‘blue heart’ of environmental policy.

The connections I have made through CSaP have also been a springboard to other things. For example, David Good connected me with the Royal College of Arts, who helped me bring design thinking into a Defra workshop. Incorporating that artistic element was creative, insightful, and brought something new to our way of thinking.

When you connect with the academic world it really is oxygenating, you feel invigorated, because it exposes you to a whole other world out there that is thinking in different ways. I get value from that, and our institutions get value from having civil servants come back to Whitehall from Cambridge with stories to share.