Capabilities in Academic Policy Engagement - Regional Structures and Opportunities

26 June 2023

Capabilities in Academic Policy Engagement - Regional Engagement Structures and Opportunities

Reported by Patrick McAlary, CSaP Policy Assistant (May – December 2023)

A panel discussion chaired by Dr Sarah Chaytor, Director of Research and Strategy, UCL, focused on processes for academic engagement with Combined Authorities and other regional structures, sharing learning from the CAPE project in several regions and local authorities in England.

As a part of CSaP's Annual Conference 2023, attendees gathered for the panel discussion on the Capabilities in Academic Policy Engagement - Regional Engagement Structures and Opportunities. The chair was joined by Dr Louise Kempton, Director of Insights North East (INE) and Dr Peter O’Brien, Executive Director of Yorkshire Universities.

Capabilities in Academic Policy Engagement (CAPE)
Dr Chaytor opened the session by highlighting the purpose of CAPE, a knowledge exchange and research project that seeks to engender engagement between policy professionals and the higher education sector. She argued that the CAPE project has revealed a huge amount of potential to build policy engagement at a local and regional level and real opportunities to strengthen the relationships that exist between universities and local government. Moreover, she continued her discussion by stating that while there was a lot of appetite for academic-policy engagement at local and regional levels, issues remain around building capacity and sustaining momentum.
Dr Chaytor also highlighted that it is important that new networks are emerging to provide infrastructure that is specifically aimed at the regional policy landscape, as the CAPE project comes to an end. Shen then started talking about Yorkshire and Humber Policy Engagement Research Network (Y-PERN) and Insights North East (INE) as examples and stated that both are focused on place-based policy making and both aim to create long-term sustainable academic-policy ecosystems in their respective regions.

Y-PERN: Yorkshire and Humber Policy Engagement Research Network

Highlighting that Y-PERN network developed from the existing structure of Yorkshire Universities, Dr Peter O’Brien explained that Y-PERN brings together universities across Yorkshire with the region’s 22 Local Authorities and 2 Mayoral Authorities, alongside Local Enterprise Partnerships to facilitate place-based academic policy engagement and research. Dr O’Brien also noted that the Network aims to use university research to make the case for the region by promoting its priorities of economic development, health and wellbeing, and environment.

Dr O’Brien then outlined the ‘6 Ps’ that underpin the network:

  1. Partnership: a long-term and strategic partnership between Yorkshire’s higher education sector and local/regional government with high-level leadership buy-in around an agreed set of shared priorities;
  2. Piloting and Evaluating: reflecting on learning to refine a workable and inclusive model for academic-policy engagement;
  3. Projection: to take insights learned from initial work undertaken in West Yorkshire and projecting that onto a bigger stage;
  4. Policy Landscape: to plug into the governmental make-up of Yorkshire and to balance the local, sub-regional, and regional;
  5. Principle of Academic Autonomy: while the network is aimed at building connections to bring together the supply and demand sides, at its heart is an independent academic steering group that can speak truth to power;
  6. Pace: creating the capacity to respond to policy-makers in an agile and timely manner.

INE: Insights North East

Starting her speech by sharing her bemusement on the disconnect between the academic and policy communities, Dr Louise Kempton argued that the academic and policy community needed to create a two-way bridge between policy and research. Dr Kempton then outlined the four key pillars that underpin INE:

  1. Capacity: research-policy engagement is not something that can be tacked on to an academic’s job, it requires a full-time dedicated team;
  2. Demand driven: INE responds directly to the questions of its policy partners and works to connect them with the appropriate academics and research;
  3. Catalysing: the focus is not on producing new research, but catalysing on existing activity and strengths within the research community;
  4. Action learning: a research-policy interface must attune to the particularities of its environment and this takes time to get right.

Emphasising these pillars, Dr Kempton argued that INE delivers actionable and evidence-based outcomes, fosters increased capacity, and engenders a new policy-research ecosystem through which INE can share learning and experience across the UK on how to create sustainable academic-policy partnerships. She further explained how policy makers benefit from the expertise and actionable outcomes, while the model supports academic partners enacting impact from their research.


At the end of the session, both Dr O’Brien and Dr Kempton emphasised that Y-PERN and INE were the product of a long evolution and that evolution towards a sustainable model was continuing. They highlighted that one of the real benefits of these kinds of regional networks is the possibility of attuning to regional contexts and producing workable outputs. They also noted that buy-in from policy and governmental partners made it easier to influence policy compared to at the national level.

You can listen to the session recording here:

Patrick McAlary

Centre for Science and Policy, University of Cambridge