Although research funders, governments and researchers share the desire to improve the use of evidence in decision-making, there are many barriers to doing so. Researchers often do not know what evidence is needed by government; existing research may not help policy officials make specific decisions. To improve policy-academic engagement, Sir Paul Nurse asked UK government departments to identify priority evidence gaps called Areas of Research Interest (ARIs) . This created an excellent opportunity for government to engage academics in conversation about how to meet these needs. Over 700 ARIs have been published, most of which require social science expertise to address. Some departments worked closely with academics to develop detailed questions, in some cases leading to dedicated funding. Other ARIs were briefer, requiring more work to establish next steps. The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the Government Office for Science (GO-Science) have supported us to maximise the value of these ARIs, by conducting action-research engaging with policy and research communities
Beginning in December 2019, we spent time with government officials, Chief Scientific Advisers, academics, and funders, aiming to prioritise ARIs and then facilitate constructive conversation about
- what we already know about each ARI (e.g existing evidence)
- What the evidence gaps are, and
- What steps might be required to address these gaps (further research, strategic funding, syntheses, or knowledge translation for example).
During Spring-Autumn 2020, we ran a large-scale engagement exercise involving 9 Task-and-Finish groups who worked collaboratively to synthesise evidence and policy messages on key priorities relating to the Covid-19 crisis, called Rebuilding a Resilient Britain. You can read more about the project on here.
Outputs and findings
Each Rebuiling a Resilient Britain Task-and-Finish group produced a report, identifying existing evidence, gaps in the evidence base, and key messages around the ARIs.
The reports have been made available online as a resource for academics, policy makers and funders interested in what the groups collated on what is already known; and where the current research gaps seem to be on 9 topics of cross cutting interesting to government departments.
We have also written up some of our reflections on work so far on LSE Impact Blog here.