Dr Kevin Burchell: how to generate 'policy impact'

As part of the Research Excellence Framework, which assesses and rewards the research that is undertaken by UK universities, academic departments now have to submit ‘impact’ case studies that focus on the impact of research outside of the academy. This relatively new academic imperative was the subject of an internal research conference at the University of Westminster on Tuesday 13 June.

Kevin Burchell

As part of this event, Dr Kevin Burchell, Senior Research Fellow in PSI, gave a talk, ‘Making Change Happen: action research and policy engagement for impact’. The talk focused on Kevin’s experiences of generating local, regional and national impact on policy and practice in the context of a project called Urban Heat. This project – which Kevin ran with PSI colleague Ben Fagan-Watson, three local teams and an evaluator – focused on the potential of the voluntary and community sector in the context of heatwave planning and community resilience. The project was funded by Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

Rather than talk about the detail of the topic, the project and the actual impact, Kevin focused on the process of generating policy impact. Kevin’s key point was that the traditional linear progression from research to outputs is disrupted in the context of ‘impact’. Instead, to generate ‘impact’, ‘impact’ activities and research activities need to progress iteratively together, informing each other from the start. Kevin also discussed the importance of: starting to make contact with policy people right from the start or even when writing bids; ongoing efforts to seek out and make contact with relevant policy actors; making yourself useful; being relevant, but not reliant on policy actors; being a ‘critical friend’ to policy people, but avoiding ‘capture’; allowing a lot of time for these activities; understanding the contexts within which policy people work; using the power of simple concepts; repeating the same things; keeping good records of both activities and impacts; and chasing down evidence of impact.

You can read more about Urban Heat and policy impact in the full report here.

Contact Kevin at k.burchell@westminster.ac.uk.