The Research, ‘authentic description’
Professor Liebling summarises her approach to research as “authentic description”. Through extensive research undertaken over a number of years in prisons, involving observation, ‘appreciative inquiry’, interviews and conducting quality of life surveys (MQPL, SQL), the team have been able to develop an understanding of prisons that can be used by policy makers and practitioners in a variety of ways.
In developing quality of life surveys for prisoners and staff, the teams’ goals were: ‘authentic description of the moral, relational and social climate in individual prisons, and explanation of their differences’. Using an appreciative method of grounded theory the researchers explored what mattered most to prisoners and prison staff and combined dialogue over time with quantitative evaluation; a methodology they describe as ‘ethnography-led measurement’. This approach led to convincing and reliable measurement of what are regarded as the most important dimensions of prison life and quality, namely: respect, humanity, staff-prisoner relationships, trust, well-being, safety, order and the use of authority by staff.
The Impact, ‘performance and quality in prisons’
The work informs effective measures for standards in prisons, used by HM Prison Service to assess the performance and quality of establishments, and is also being used by international institutions. The work has influenced the ‘decency agenda’, by providing a language and methodology for evaluating and comparing aims of decency and quality in prisons; this evaluation agenda has had a positive impact on, for example, reducing prison suicides, by showing what qualities are present in prisons which have fewer, and lower levels of distress. Members of the PRC are frequently asked to advise HM Prison Service on a range of issues relating to the quality of prison life.
Reflections on Impact, ‘low-key, organic, long-term’
Professor Liebling and her team have developed expertise in understanding the prison world but at the same time maintain their intellectual credibility and independence and address their own underlying research questions whilst conducting research of direct policy relevance. The team have found that independent, academically rigorous research, often funded by research councils has the most impact on policy and practice, because it asks, and then answers, better questions than practitioners can ask. The long-term research relationship with the Prison Service has led to mutual understanding of this benefit to ‘trust-driven research’. This type of impact does not follow a ‘model’ and could not – indeed was not – planned to happen in a particular way. It represents low-key, organic, long-term engagement by researchers with the research environment.
In reflecting on the impact of social science more broadly, Professor Liebling suggests three ways in which research can support policy development and reform: in the direct reflection on practice it allows through challenging assumptions and placing action in context; in the presentation of evidence to policy makers and other organisations; in allowing ‘reflective space’ in a frantic [policy] climate to ask and answer questions about assumptions and frameworks. The flow from research into policy is sometimes indirect, or counter to researchers’ judgement. Researchers do not influence the politics of policy-making and research cannot compete directly with other forces shaping policy outcomes – the realities of operational decision making, financial constraints, the role of the media and public opinion. There are limitations to engaging with policy but ultimately the underlying purpose of the research is to be committed to ‘getting the description right’. Good description requires ‘courage, insight, effort, and exceptional degrees of access’. And in terms of long-term impact and the role of critical social science, the ‘right description’ can change the world.
As the only historian on the Panel, Professor Evans has used his research to provide expert advice that has played a significant role in shaping the five reports and recommendations published by the Panel since 2008. This has resulted in the resolution of a number of disputes and played a role in the ongoing process of reconciliation following the Second World War.
The scope of the research by Professor Evans – which includes art history and the ‘Aryanization’ of Jewish property in Nazi Germany, cultural looting of countries by the Nazis, and the state of the financial market and banking sector in Germany at the time – were able to provide the Panel with essential historical context for its work. On cases such as claim for the return of an oil sketch by Sir Peter Paul Rubens and a rare Italian Missal from the Benevento Chapter removed illegally at the end of the Second World War, Professor Evan’s research and documentary investigations assisted the panel in coming to decisions on advising on the return of the objects.
The cases prompted the panel to recommend legislation and this led to the Holocaust (Return of Cultural Objects) Act 2009, which was passed as a Private Member’s Bill.
Bumblebees are among the UK’s estimated 1,500 species of wild pollinators and play a vital role in the environment. They transfer pollen from plant to plant – and thus ensure that plants reproduce. It is estimated that 75% of the crops we eat depend on pollination. Over the past 80 years or so, there has been a dramatic decline in the distributions of some bumblebee species. Two of the 26 species of bumblebee once common in the UK are now extinct.
Dr Lynn Dicks is an expert in the ecology of flower-visiting insects, and has used her knowledge of the requirements of pollinators to contribute to policy development by Natural England in its Countryside Stewardship scheme to try and reverse the decline in wild pollinators such as bumblebees.
In 2013, Dr Dicks took advantage of an opportunity opened up for scientists to contribute to the development of an ‘agri-environment package’ for wild pollinators as part of the new Countryside Stewardship scheme. Dicks used this ‘policy window’ to bring together a wide range of available information and ask key questions about wild pollinators and their relationship with the farmed environment. In providing tentative answers to these questions, her research provides ballpark figures on aspects of land management that determine population levels of wild pollinators, including bumblebees, and bolsters arguments for policies that encourage farmers to sow a mix of wild flowers.
By calculating the pollen demands of individual bees, and the resulting demand for flowers, Dicks has come up with some approximate figures in terms of the percentage of land and hedgerow needed to resource a healthy population of selected wild pollinators. Using a 100-hectare block of land as the basis for calculations, she estimates that the provision of a 2% flower-rich habitat and 1km flowering hedgerow will supply the six pollinator species with enough pollen to feed their larvae. “We suggest that farmers sow headlands, field corners and other areas with mixes that will flower in the summer months, but they also need to manage hedgerows, woodland edges, margins and verges to enhance early and late flowering species and provide nesting and hibernating opportunities,” says Dicks.
According to James Phillips, Senior Advisor, the Agri-environment Team at Natural England:
“We looked at [Lynn’s] research and we applied that research to the Wild Pollinator Strategy and the key thing was that it was evidence-based, and it was all about putting in the right options in the right place and at the right scale to deliver the lifecycle needs of wild pollinators and that was key to the package that we have developed.”
The workshop, convened by Professor Wendy Ayres-Bennett of Cambridge University’s Department of Theoretical and Applied Linguistics, and chaired by Baroness Coussins, Co-Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Modern Languages and President of Speak to the Future, brought together representatives from different Whitehall departments ranging from the Ministry of Defence to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills as well as from the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, to examine the current situation in the UK regarding languages, and discuss plans for the future.
In her introduction Baroness Coussins called for a “National Languages Recovery Programme” to embed language skills in UK education, and ensure that Britain is able to compete on the global stage.
Selected talks from the day have been made available to listen to online via SoundCloud. For more information, see https://soundcloud.com/university-of-cambridge/sets/camlangpol-2015.
The numbers of students taking a language at A level are down 28% since 1996 and over 40 UK universities have closed their language departments since 2000. Susannah Poulton of the Department of UK Trade and Investment estimated, based on research carried out by Cardiff University, that up to £48 billion is lost by the UK every year in missed contracts due to a lack of foreign language skills, in what has been described as the "vicious circle of monolingualism".
However, as Professor Ayres-Bennet pointed out, “Despite the reduction in the number of those becoming multilingual through formal education, multilingualism is very strongly present in UK schools. Department for Education statistics show that nearly one in five primary school pupils have a first language other than English. The range of languages spoken by these ‘heritage’ and minority language speakers is much broader than those traditionally taught, and could represent a significant skill-set for the UK”.
Presenters at the workshop focused not only on the educational and economic advantages of being multilingual, but also its benefits for international diplomacy and collaboration, and, especially in a military context, conflict resolution and peace-building.
Professor Ayres-Bennett said:
“I hope that this workshop, and others like it in future, will lead to greater collaboration between university researchers and language policy professionals across the UK. We want to establish new channels of communication through which policy-makers can tap into evidence-based research to develop new approaches to language teaching and a coherent strategy for promoting languages nationally”.
Slides from the morning session can be downloaded here:
All photos by Nigel Luckhurst
Reducing our demand for energy is essential to any serious efforts at mitigation, but is currently below the political and public horizon. It challenges widely held assumptions about economic growth and can be considered only if we activate the humanities and wider social sciences as a complement to engineering and economic thinking.
In November 2015 academics from different disciplines across the humanities and social scientists responded to Professor Allwood’s challenge to draw on their own research and expertise to explore and analyse strategies for demand reduction in relation to climate change.
The report summaries each of the contributions to provide new thinking on demand for energy. Do we need more politics around climate change? Should we reduce demand for meat? Should we charge differently for energy use? What role do beliefs play in our demand for energy?
These and other suggestions are examined in this introduction to new thinking on the problem of rising demand for energy.
Slides from the session can be downloaded here:
Photo: Agustín Ruiz via Creative Commons.
In December 2015, an international summit on human gene editing involving the National Academies of Science from the United States, United Kingdom and China made recommendations for research and agreed to work together to consider its implications.
Cambridge science is at the forefront of this technology. Two of the university’s strategic research initiatives, in Stem Cells and Public Policy respectively, convened a one-day workshop in January 2016 as an opportunity to catalyse Cambridge’s response to the opportunities offered by stem cell research, and to engage with relevant stakeholders to consider hopes and fears surrounding gene editing.
The workshop brought together a select group of scientists, bioethicists, social scientists and policy makers to discuss the opportunities that may emerge from gene editing technology, the ethical and legal implications of developments, and to discuss what appropriate policy measures need to be in place in order to support the appropriate evolution of gene editing technology.
Whilst the biggest application of CRISPR technology remains in basic research, the different areas covered by gene editing – from human stem cells and gene therapy, to diseases in animals and genetically modified crops – show its huge potential.
Our report discusses some of the specific ethical, legal and policy issues relating to gene editing in human stem cells, including further international regulation and agreement on research into the human genome, and the type of policy development required around gene editing, including assessing both the opportunities and risks it presents.
To read the Stem Cells and Society Workshop report, click here.
- Language contributes to UK prosperity: languages are a ‘value-added’ skill
- Language learning forms part of ‘cultural agility’ from knowing other languages and cultures
- Languages provide value-added skills across a range of occupations
- There is increasing understanding of the personal and societal benefits of bilingualism
- Recognized importance of ‘soft power’ and language skills in conflict areas
What concerns are there now?
- Business lost to UK companies through lack of language skills
- Gaps in detecting incidence and spread of disease outbreaks and other health and security threats
- Loss of language departments and degree courses in UK higher education
- Lack of native English speakers in translating and interpreting departments of EU and UN
- Inadequate language services in courts and healthcare
The role and contribution of language to the UK economy and society is both rich and varied. It stretches from enabling economic growth and prosperity through the language and communication skills required to enable UK business to participate in the global market place; to the ‘soft power’ and diplomatic skills through which the UK’s role and authority in foreign policy is manifested; to enhancing the cultural capital, educational attainment and social cohesion within England and the devolved communities of the UK both now and in the future.This report draws on discussions held at a workshop in Cambridge to discuss strategic issues in which languages play a part: national security, diplomacy and conflict resolution, community and social cohesion, migration and identity.
Representatives from government departments and bodies included: Ministry of Defence, UK Trade and Investment, Department for Culture, Arts and Leisure Northern Ireland, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Ofsted.
Read the 'The value of Languages' report here. (PDF)
The Cambridge Institute of Public Health and the PublicHealth@Cambridge Network have launched the Public Health: Research into Policy pilot to explore ways to strengthen links between public health researchers at the University and policymakers. As part of the project the team have put together case studies to show how Cambridge researchers are engaging with policy through their research.
See the case studies below and read more at the Research into Policy website. The project coordinator is Lauren Milden: email@example.com.
Case Study 1 Effect of WHO Guidelines on Meningitis Vaccinations
Dr Caroline Trotter and her team at Cambridge’s Department of Veterinary Medicine have used mathematical modelling to help ensure that World Health Organisation guidelines provide the most robust and effective approach to meningitis vaccinations in Sub-Saharan Africa. To learn more about this case study of public health policy engagement click here.
Case Study 2 Research on Portion Size
Professor Theresa Marteau and her team at the Behaviour and Health Research Unit conducted a Cochrane systematic review producing the most conclusive evidence to date that people consistently consume more food and drink when offered larger-sized portions, packages or tableware than when offered smaller-sized versions. This has informed Public Health England’s report on sugar reduction and continues to influence the debate on tackling obesity. To learn more about this case study of public health policy engagement click here.
Case Study 3 Future of Primary Care
Professor Martin Roland CBE, Emeritus Professor of Health Services Research at the University of Cambridge, used a career’s worth of research and insight to help shape the future of primary care. This included chairing a government commission on the primary care workforce and working hard to ensure that the Commission’s recommendations were effectively communicated to the relevant policymakers. To learn more about this case study of public health policy engagement click here.
Case Study 4: Impacting NICE guidelines through the consultation process
Dr Robbie Duschinsky, of Cambridge’s Primary Care Unit at the School of Clinical Medicine, mobilised international colleagues to ensure draft NICE guidelines that had the potential to impact on the experiences and outcomes of children suspected of being the victims of maltreatment were revised to reflect the most robust and up-to-date evidence. To learn more about this case study of public health policy engagement click here.
Case Study 5 Understanding the cumulative risk of pollutants
Professor Douglas Crawford-Brown, recently retired Director of the Cambridge Centre for Climate Change Mitigation Research, part of the Department of Land Economy at the University of Cambridge, has spent a career using academic research to help governments, businesses and communities respond to the challenge of environmental change. Part of his research at Cambridge has been answering policymakers’ questions around the cumulative risk of pollutants in water so that they can better understand and tackle the problem.
The case for public health policy engagement – the sixth in our series of case studies
Case Study 6: Serving as Economic Advisor for the Review on Antimicrobial Resistance
Dr Flavio Toxvaerd is a Lecturer at the University of Cambridge’s Faculty of Economics. From 2014 to 2016 he served as the Economic Advisor for the Government and Wellcome Trust-commissioned independent Review on Antimicrobial Resistance. In May 2016 the Review published its 10 recommendations around how we can tackle this worsening global public health crisis.
Download the guide here
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A symposium organised by the Philomathia Forum brought academics together to discuss the contribution of social sciences to address major public policy questions for the coming decades.
What might be identified as some of the big public policy challenges of our age? Energy, food security, poverty, public health, conservation?
Today Cambridge academics from across the social sciences and humanities came together to discuss the contribution of Cambridge research to address some of these challenges.
Established research programmes at Cambridge that cross disciplines in order to tackle big policy issues were highlighted – such as in energy, conservation, food security and public health. Delegates also heard about new programmes that focus on contemporary ideas and processes in relation to public policy such as Big Data.
What is the role of academics in addressing public policy issues?
First, we learnt it is important to take a historical perspective on contemporary social problems. Using the example of the transition from the poor law to the welfare state in the early twentieth century, which was an early example of data collection and statistical analysis shaping public policy, Professor Simon Deakin showed how, despite advances in social science methods, little progress had been made to date, in resolving some long standing public policy issues. Our failure to ‘solve’ policy problems such as housing, poverty and ill-health shows how important it is to study the craft or process of policy-making, the subject of the new Strategic Research Initiative on Public Policy.
“It is not enough for researchers to present their findings to policy makers and expect them simply to implement them. Policy making is a process and if academics want to influence it they have to understand how it works,” commented Simon Deakin, co-chair of the Strategic Research Initiative on Public Policy.
Second, academics make a contribution in seeking out the underlying causes of complex social problems; in short, to seek out ‘the causes of the causes of the causes’ of today’s issues.
Professor Larry King showed delegates how political economy, with an emphasis on the governance of public health, explained variations in life expectancy between different groups and over time in post-communist states. Studying decisions made at political economy level leads researchers to go beyond the question of ‘what works?’ and ask, ‘what works for whom?’
Third, there was an appreciation of interdisciplinary work in solving practical problems, and an emphasis on the primacy of data and knowledge being brought to bear on significant issues. For example, researchers on Big Data are looking at the contribution of large data sets to public policy as well as analysing how data, including performance data and also social data, is being used to steer public policy and how citizens engage with policy makers. In the digital humanities research network, researchers explore how we as individuals connect with data and digital processes and ask questions about the ethics and values underlying how data is built up and used in order to direct public institutions. At the Behaviour and Health Research Unit researchers focus on generating evidence, including on behavioural science and ‘nudge’ approaches to changing behaviour in public health. They also recognise the context in which policies are put into effect and the ‘acceptability’ of policies designed to change behaviour:
“While behavioural science works to identify the environmental cues that increase as well as those that reduce consumption of these products [tobacco, alcohol, processed foods], changing these environmental cues (e.g. branded packaging of cigarettes, widespread availability of cheap processed foods, sugary drinks and alcohol), needs contributions from political, social and economic sciences, as well as history. Cambridge has rare strengths in this collection of disciplines with the potential to make a significant contribution to the huge and growing global burden of the chronic diseases caused by over-consumption." Professor Theresa Marteau, Director, Behaviour and Health Research Unit.
Our discussions around global energy issues brought together researchers at Cambridge with Professor Paul Wright from Berkeley’s Energy and Climate Institute. Professor Wright summarised the global energy challenge in supporting economic growth in all countries, especially developing ones, without substantially increasing carbon emissions from coal or gas. Professor Wright’s visit reflects collaboration between Berkeley and Cambridge, and our academics were interested in the ‘model’ that Berkeley has established through CITRIS (Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society), a centre that hosts multi-disciplinary projects on large societal problems such as energy and the environment, and IT for healthcare.
Fourth, we were reminded that public policy analysis is not just about addressing contemporary issues, but also about how to promote the public good, or ‘res publica’. As Professor Christopher Hill reflected, ‘this theme ran like a silver thread through all the discussions … it focuses on helping those responsible for acting on all our behalves to improve their ways of being both effective and democratic.’
We addressed what could be the specific contribution of Cambridge social science research to big issues such as energy, conservation and climate change. Cambridge’s distinctive approach to problems was summed up by delegates as providing ‘history, culture, ideas’- an appreciation of the causes of problems, the context in which policies are formed and implemented, and the importance of bringing original thinking to bear on complex issues. For example, Dr Vira from the university’s Conservation Initiative explored the important role for social science in building a case for conservation research and explaining and understanding the wider social constructs that shape and constrain conservation practice. More broadly the range of expertise at Cambridge gives the university considerable convening power in bringing diverse research interests around a theme. This was highlighted in the Energy Strategic Research Initiative and also in the Global Food Security Initiative, which brings together researchers form infectious diseases, land resources, modelling for food security and political economy.
We heard from the University’s Director of Communications, Paul Mylrea on activities to support engagement between researchers and policy makers. He also reminded us about the view from the other side – politicians and their private office – and how important it is for academics to identify and understand the target audience when communicating about research:
“A detailed understanding of the policy makers, their drivers, perceptions and beliefs, is critical for any researcher who wishes to influence policy. And just as important is, understanding the process of policy making. All too often, sound advice can be discarded because it is presented in the wrong way, at the wrong time or through the wrong channels.”
The symposium was an opportunity to connect with new colleagues and hear about the range of work going on at Cambridge in subjects as diverse as law and zoology, and to ‘talk with them about potential collaborations and contributions we could make to each other’s work’ (Dr Alex Kogan).
On energy, Dr David Reiner commented that, ‘The Philomathia Symposium was a great opportunity for me to meet with Prof Paul Wright who directs the Berkeley Energy and Climate Institute (BECI) and discuss opportunities for future collaboration between Cambridge and Berkeley and particularly between the Energy Policy Research Group/Energy@Cambridge and BECI.’
Leaving the symposium delegates were convinced of the strength of social science at Cambridge, the importance of collaborative research, and the case was made for undertaking new research and analysis into the public policy process at Cambridge.
Professor Martin Daunton, Head of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, who leads the Philomathia Social Sciences Research Programme at Cambridge summed up the day:
“The symposium was a great success in bringing together social sciences with colleagues from the sciences, medicine and technology who realise that their solutions to the great challenges facing to the world stand little chance of success without a deep engagement with social, political and economic processes. A conversation started across disciplinary lines which will develop and flourish in the future”.