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Policy Engagement and Impact Fellows

The Policy Engagement and Impact Fellowship was a learning opportunity for early career researchers (broadly defined as someone within the first seven years of their research activity, or PhD students and post-docs) at UCL. It combined in-depth training, hands-on experience and tailored partnerships to help the Fellows develop impactful policy engagement with a policy partner. 

The Fellowship began with training sessions designed to ensure participants had the skills and confidence to engage with the policy community. Participants were supported to identify stakeholders and work with them to co-produce targeted policy outputs. 

Running from April - July 2021, our first cohort welcomed six early career researchers from diverse academic backgrounds. Information about their work, policy partnerships and outputs will be available soon. 

Fellows

Shereen Al-Laham, ‘Childhood obesity – Care of South Asian infants in East London’

Shereen Al-Laham, Research Fellow, Institute of Epidemiology & Health 

Shereen Al-Laham is leading the NEON (Nurture Early for Optimal Nutrition) programme and has worked closely with the community to co-develop interventions. However, she realised that long-term impact cannot be achieved unless findings are translated into policy. To achieve policy impact, she used the Fellowship to create a video for the NEON programme that targets policymakers and highlights the importance of this programme and what changes are needed in practice. To maximise impact, Shereen identified key partners to work with, including a public health strategist at Newham Council, the principal investigator of the research programme at UCL and two of the community facilitators she worked with in the study, one partner from Tower Hamlets Council and a representative from an NGO. Shereen collaborated with her partners to write a script for the video that highlights (1) what the problem is; (2) what the solution is; (3) how the solution benefits the community; and (4) what is next, a call for action. Through the process of writing the script, she identified content that could also be visually displayed in the video, including infographics and clips of interviews with the partners. To explore ways that interventions and solutions presented in the video could be implemented in practice, the partners were also invited to a virtual roundtable discussion that provided participants with the opportunity to share their thoughts about the NEON programme and identify routes for policy change.

Dr Cini Bhanu, ‘Hydration in later life’

Dr Cini Bhanu, Clinical Research Fellow, Institute of Epidemiology & Health 

Cini Bhanu worked with the charity, Age UK London, and older Patient & Public Involvement members, to produce a social media campaign video and blog to encourage older people to drink well and keep hydrated. This project was based on a research study conducted at the Primary Care & Population Health Department (funded by the NIHR School for Primary Care Research (SPRC)) exploring community-dwelling older people and informal carers’ views on hydration in later life, which identified key barriers to drinking and facilitators to support older people to drink well. 

The public campaign video was produced in conjunction with UCL’s media team. It has been published through Age UK London’s social media networks (alongside the Healthwatch Greenwich newsletter; NIHR SPCR; and local community groups). The video is under consideration by the NHS Digital team for hosting on the NHS website and has sparked conversations for improving training around hydration in older people amongst health professionals in the NHS North Central and East London community networks.

> Research paper
> Public campaign video
> Blog

Dr Sara Abad Guaman, ‘Robotics for sustainable agriculture’

Dr Sara Abad Guaman, Research Fellow, Department of Mechanical Engineering

Characteristics, such as high terrain inclination, type of soil, and scarcity of hand labour have contributed to the increased use of pesticides in Ecuadorian farms, which has negative ecological and health effects. Sara Abad Guaman’s interests are in robotics and agriculture and her PhD, funded by the Ecuadorian government, investigated solutions to decrease pesticide use in agriculture. Addressing a key challenge for farmers in Ecuador – the steep inclination of terrain – she developed a bio-inspired robotic hoof to facilitate the mobility of robots in unstructured environments for use in controlling weeds and monitoring the health of crops and soil.

For the Fellowship, she is working with the Soil Association, a charity that works across human health, the environment and animal welfare. Sara worked with the Soil Association to submit a written contribution to the development of a POSTnote (short briefing notes produced by the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology to inform Parliamentarians on scientific subjects) on Pesticides and Health. This POSTnote has now been published and our contribution has been cited. Currently, Sara and the Soil Association are organising a roundtable to discuss topics around technologies to improve soil management, support sustainable agriculture, and improve the quantification of carbon capture in the soil. The main outputs of this roundtable will be a contribution to the POSTnote on Managing Soils for Carbon and Plant Productivity. As well as a policy brief summarising the key points and recommendations from the roundtable, Sara will be producing short videos with some of the roundtable participants where they will have the opportunity to go into more detail about the topic from their perspectives.

Written contribution

Dr Amy Horton, ‘The UK care home sector’

Dr Amy Horton, Lecturer, Department of Geography 

Amy Horton is co-investigator on the project, ‘Understanding the financial impact of COVID-19 on the UK care home sector - implications for businesses and the workforce,’ which is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. The project seeks to identify concentrations of financial risk among care homes to help inform future funding decisions by policy makers. It also explores the experiences of care home staff of working throughout COVID-19, including whether they have been affected by any financial pressures on the sector. The aim is to influence support for care staff from government and employers. To design the research with the care workforce, which involves a survey and interviews, Amy undertook a review of the literature. She also consulted policy partners in the sector – UNISON, the trade union, and the National Care Forum, which represents non-profit care homes – to understand their perspectives on the priorities for research. The findings from this process were presented in a short briefing paper, which was submitted to the Parliamentary Office for Science and Technology, responding to relevant Areas of Research Interest identified by parliamentarians. Data collection for this study is ongoing. In November, the project team will hold a seminar on preliminary findings from the financial analysis with a group of key policymakers. Further reports and engagement with key stakeholders will follow. 

> Briefing 

Dr Louise Mc Grath-Lone, ‘Making administrative health data ‘research-ready’’

Dr Louise Mc Grath-Lone, Senior Research Fellow in Public Health Data, Institute of Health Informatics 

Administrative data - information that is routinely collected by organisations for operational reasons - are a valuable resource for research to inform policy and practice. However, compared to other countries, administrative data are under-utilised as a research resource in the UK due to technical and governance barriers which limit their use. For example, administrative datasets can be difficult and time consuming to access and often require a lot of cleaning and preparation before they can be used for research. In recent years, there has been considerable interest and financial investment by the government in making administrative data research-ready; however, there it is not clear what the term “research-ready” actually means.

For the Fellowship, Louse is working with Administrative Data Research (ADR) UK, which promotes the benefits of administrative data research and engages with UK Government to support safe and secure access to administrative data for research to inform policy decisions that improve people’s lives. Working with ADR UK, she was part of a stakeholder event that brought together data owners, policy makers and researchers to discuss the development of the Education and Child Health Insights from Linked Data (ECHILD) Database, a research-ready administrative data sources that includes linked health, education and social care data for all children in England born since 1st September 1995. Louise worked with ADR UK to co-author a report that described the key messages from this event, which has now been published. Louise also wrote a blog about the event for the ADR UK website and created an infographic about the ECHILD Database. Currently, Louise and ADR UK are working to organise another roundtable to discuss the defining characteristics of research-ready administrative data with data providers, policy makers and researchers, with a view to developing the consensus that is needed to collaboratively develop common principles and standards. The main outputs from this work will be a policy brief summarising the key points and recommendations from the roundtable.

> Roundtable report 
> Blog 
> Infographic 

Eva Sprecher, ‘Relationships between foster carers and children in care’

Eva Sprecher, PhD Student, Division of Psychology & Language Sciences

Eva worked with the charity, Coram BAAF, to host a roundtable event with the chair Dr John Simmonds OBE. The objective was to stimulate discussion and work towards identifying solutions on how to improve the relational experiences of children in care and those who have spent time in the care system through changing policy and practice. Eva co-produced a roundtable report summarising the key points and recommendations from the discussion. She also collaborated with care-experienced artists who created postcards summarising key findings around the themes of: Responsibility to Connect; Building to Last; What is Success without Relationships; Relationships Build Futures; and Untold Stories. The findings will be shared widely, including with the ongoing Independent Review of Children’s Social Care team and the Spotlight review run by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Looked-After-Children and Care Leavers.

> Roundtable report
Responsibility to Connect
Building to Last 

What is Success without Relationships 
> Relationships Build Futures 
> Untold Stories