On 3-5 November 2021, I joined research professionals from across the Network for Advancing and Evaluating the Societal Impact of Science (AESIS) to discuss state of the art methods for evaluating the impact of research. Participants showcased institutional best practices, stakeholder engagement strategies, as well as how to leverage emerging data sources. In this blog, I reflect on the conversations initiated at the conference, drawing upon insights gained throughout my research at STEaPP.
By Carla-Leanne Washbourne, Julius Mugwagwa, Remy Twiringiyimana and Anne-Marie Kagwesage
As we enter the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, many countries are still struggling to cope with ongoing and evolving challenges brought by the virus. Governments are actively responding, day to day, with new or improved guidance for their population, based on the most up to date understanding of the pandemic, drawing on cutting edge insights from a range of different research fields.
In the shadow of this evolving crisis, the line between short term response and long-term sustained management has become more and more blurred. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbated by, runs in parallel to, and draws focus from many other critical and long-term social and environmental issues, including demographic shifts, urbanisation and the climate and extinction crises. Institutions tasked with supporting national systems of science and innovation have a huge role to play in the response to all of these challenges. For them, the pandemic presents both a great opportunity to generate and communicate technical insights, which could have real and immediate societal impact, and a challenge in allocating and mobilising resources to ensure a balance of short-term responsive issues and longer term developmental and strategic goals are being met.
Love is all around
In 2019, UK politician, Rory Stewart, then running for Leadership of the UK Conservative Party, spoke regularly of love being at the core of his policy agenda. In a particularly memorable moment, during the launch of his campaign, he answered a question about how he was going to combat negativism towards transgender and ethnic minority people by saying ‘its about pride in each other…[its] about listening and, I’m afraid, its about love’.
I thought about that launch event moment often over 2020. The combined ravages of a Trump presidency and a terrible global pandemic have made a mockery of so many of things that seemed rational and certain. In the moment, Stewart’s claim that policy must be rooted in love and respect for ourselves and solidarity with each other in all our diversity, sounded so far from the norm, but increasingly it seems to me that pragmatic and convincing policy responses have a lot to do with love, listening and respect.
Innovative interdepartmental collaborations are needed to foster better science policy and diplomacy interfaces and enable all the SDGsj.c.mauduit8 December 2020
By Dr Luis Lacerda, Research Associate in Paediatric Neuroimaging at UCL Institute of Child Health & Dr Jean-Christophe Mauduit, Lecturer in Science Diplomacy, UCL Department of Science Technology Engineering and Public Policy
As a global university, UCL is leading the way in exploring how universities can contribute to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as it recently demonstrated in its two-week virtual conference organised by UCL Grand Challenges and the Global Engagement Office. Helping realise the SDGs will benefit from the university’s most relevant expertise on each particular goal and enhance translational research, but will also enable more cross-disciplinary research within our diverse community, with the aim to spark collaborations ‘beyond boundaries’.
Programs like the Capabilities in Academic-Policy Engagement spearheaded by UCL Public Policy or like the Policy Impact Unit of UCL STEaPP are essential in helping researchers better understand the policy landscape, develop the necessary skills to engage with it more effectively, and work hand in hand with policymakers to develop more evidence-informed public policies based on their research. However, policy impact is not necessarily topic-specific. Indeed, there are many general science policy and diplomacy interfaces that are cross-cutting and relevant to all the SDGs, and they also deserve our attention. There are also many UCL researchers who are willing to engage and develop these interfaces beyond their particular research area.
By Julius Mugwagwa, Carla-Leanne Washbourne, Remy Twiringiyimana and Anne Marie Kagwesage from the STECS Project Team, UCL & University of Rwanda
The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) global pandemic has exposed frailties in our health, social and economic systems. The sudden outbreak of COVID-19 at the end of 2019 and its rapid global spread to infect more than 4 million, causing nearly 300, 000 deaths to date, has been a perfect storm of human and physical factors. The outbreak has simultaneously tested various aspects of our deeply interconnected societies, resulting in delayed, sluggish, inadequate and at times impotent responses to the pandemic.
If there is a silver lining that has visibly emerged from the pandemic, it is the important, yet often hidden role that different disciplines of science and engineering play in generating and providing tools for dealing with societal challenges. From provision of personal protective equipment (PPE), rapid development and supply of ventilators and drug therapies, to insights feeding into social distancing guidance and rapid response measures to keep communities fed – science and engineering inputs have been suddenly placed centre stage, for all to see and appreciate. From fields as diverse as epidemiology, behavioural science, chemistry, data science, molecular biology, pharmaceutical sciences, communication and civil, chemical and biomedical engineering, among thousands of others, the pandemic has provided a chance to see the great contributions that the millions of people working in these fields make to our lives.