UCL News


Spotlight on Dr Olivia Stevenson

19 October 2016

This week the spotlight is on Dr Olivia Stevenson, Head of Public Policy and Engagement (UCL BEAMS), UCL Office of the Vice-Provost (Research).

Olivia Stevenson

What is your role and what does it involve?

As Head of Public Policy and Engagement at UCL, I am responsible for ensuring that research from the UCL School of the Built Environment, Engineering and Mathematical and Physical Sciences has a real-world impact on public policy. 

I lead on, manage and develop a portfolio of activities and engagement to support this, which ranges from (although not exclusively) managing a policy placement scheme to developing and delivering training for doctoral researchers on creating policy impact. I also support academics to translate their research for policy audiences and develop and facilitate roundtable meetings with academia, policy and industry on topics of key importance.  

It's a very active role as UCL Public Policy interacts with researchers and decision makers from a range of government departments and arm's-length bodies. I am lucky to work within a highly experienced and motivational team: Graeme Reid (Professor of Science and Research Policy) and Sarah Chaytor (Head of the UCL Public Policy initiative, Director of Research Strategy & Policy, and Joint Chief of Staff (OVPR)), who are very supportive of my goals, ambitions and the public policy initiatives I have developed.  

How long have you been at UCL and what was your previous role?

I have been at UCL since August 2014. I also hold an honorary position at the University of Glasgow in the Department of Geographical and Earth Sciences. 

Prior to joining, I spent nearly 10 years in research, working on projects with applied policy impacts. My most recent was the ESRC-funded project 'Geographies of missing people project: Processes, experiences and responses' (2011-2014) (rated 4* in the REF 2014); a complex, multi-stakeholder, collaborative project between the Universities of Glasgow and Dundee, MPS, Police Scotland and the Missing People charity. This project was awarded the ESRC Impact Prize for outstanding contribution to society in 2015 and the Scottish Government Applied Policing Research Prize in 2013.

What working achievement or initiative are you most proud of?

The initiative at UCL I am most proud of is the development of the UCL Behaviour Change Clinics, a collaboration between UCL Public Policy and the UCL Centre for Behaviour Change, with support from UCL Innovation and Enterprise. 

The clinics are a monthly four-hour forum where policymakers, practitioners and industry representatives meet with UCL academics to discuss their current work challenges that could benefit from behaviour change expertise. Not only have the clinics provided space to establish successful partnerships and develop robust solutions to complex policy problems, but they also provide students with the opportunity to develop skills in knowledge exchange with external stakeholders. 

The clinics were a big success and have led to follow-on consultancy, successful bid outcomes and a greater knowledge of the application of behaviour change to key challenges. To date, we have hosted four clinics with NHS Choices, Ogenblik Ltd, the Department for Health and My Living Will, and you can hear their reflections in this short video.

The overall working achievement I am most proud of was as a researcher, when I developed a set of creative missing resources intended for educational and operational capacity-building for relevant user groups: police officers, families and missing people, the Missing People Charity and the general public. These stories have been used in police and charity training, included in Special Operating Procedures (SOPs), but the highlight has been their use in the annual missing carol service, introducing the voices of missing persons into a forum 'for' those left behind for the first time.

Tell us about a project you are working on now which is top of your to-do list?

During this year I have been working with UCL Grand Challenges, media company Quattrain and Sue Nelson (science journalist and broadcaster) to produce the podcast series, Synergies. This UCL series is an essential guide to what happens when academics reach out beyond their discipline to answer complex real-world problems. 

Each podcast brings together two academic experts from UCL and beyond who work in different fields, but who are involved in the same project to explore the possibilities, and occasional pitfalls, of an interdisciplinary world. The podcasts are available online and on i-Tunes, and they include: 

Climate health: Professor Hugh Montgomery (UCL Institute for Sport, Exercise and Health) and Professor Peter Cox (Department of Mathematics at the University of Exeter) interviewed by Sue Nelson (science journalist and broadcaster)

Liveable citiesDr Ellie Cosgrave (UCL Science, Technology, Engineering and Public Policy) and Professor Helene Joffe (UCL Psychology and Language Sciences) interviewed by Sue Nelson

Congo citizen scienceDr Jerome Lewis (UCL Anthropology) and Professor Muki Haklay (UCL Civil, Environmental & Geomatic Engineering) interviewed by Sue Nelson

100 hoursDr Kate Smith (formerly UCL, now History at the University of Birmingham) and Elizabeth Haines (Geography at the Royal Holloway) interviewed by Sue Nelson

Wonderments of the cosmosProfessor Jon Butterworth (UCL Physics & Astronomy) and Professor Dilwyn Knox (UCL School of European Languages, Culture and Society) interviewed by Sue Nelson

We launched Synergies at the Academy of Social Science conference: 'Interdisciplinarity: Challenges and Opportunities for the Social Sciences' in October, and I am now turning to Twitter to run a campaign to draw attention to these valuable resources. 

What is your favourite album, film and novel?

I am terrible with names, and so often titles of films, novels and songs pass me by, but I love The Royal Tenenbaums and most things by Wes Anderson. A dry and absurdist sense of humour pervades the film and the sets are so rich in detail that they are simply delightful.

What is your favourite joke (pre-watershed)?

I love humour, but I am less into jokes per se as I much prefer satire or humorous interjection, but if I had to pick a favourite it would be: "Why did the jellybean go to school? Because it wanted to become a Smartie!"

Who would be your dream dinner guests?

Mary Portas, Kathy Burke, Louis Theroux, Helen Mirren, Nigella Lawson, Spike Milligan, Philip Larkin, Oscar Wilde, Michel Palin… can you see where I'm going with this…?

What advice would you give your younger self?

The same advice I'd give to myself now: 'Life is complicated - it takes many twists and turns and so timing is everything and laughter helps (a lot)!'

What would it surprise people to know about you?

That I never intended to go to university, and look what happened - I did a PhD and never left!

What is your favourite place?

I am a very environmentally sensitive person and as a human geographer, I have been taught to understand the significance of place. So to me place is more than a location, it is also a feeling, an interaction, a relation, an imaginary... Given that, to be in the company of friends and family is my favourite kind of place.