A new report outlines findings from a review of collaboration between academics at the University of Leeds and policy-makers at Leeds City Council. Authors Professor Adam Crawford and Dr Nicola Carroll, of Leeds Social Sciences Institute, explain the thinking behind the Review and its role in furthering a civic mission in the city.
The University of Leeds and Leeds City Council share commitments to environmental sustainability, economic prosperity, social inclusivity, health and well-being. Academics and policy-makers in the city have worked together productively in responding to these challenges for many years.
Collaboration between researchers and local government officers to date has been largely on an ad hoc basis, however, and both organisations recognised an opportunity to map existing projects and understand what can be done to encourage and underpin effective future partnerships.
The resulting Review combined information on collaborative projects for the first time and proposed a series of recommendations for a more systematic inter-organisational approach to research-policy partnerships.
Leeds Social Sciences Institute (LSSI) began the Review immediately prior to Covid-19 crisis and the imperative for collaboration became increasingly compelling as fieldwork progressed. Our exercise to map existing collaborations identified 15 strategic partnerships involving the University and the Council, including Leeds Climate Commission, the MIT-REAP regional innovation partnership and Leeds Academic Health Partnership.
The Review concentrated on analysing relationships between researchers at the University and policy-makers at the Council, as these represent substantive mutual efforts to address complex issues facing the city. We found that 118 such projects were initiated since January 2015, which helped inform policy development and best practice at operational level in the second largest local authority in England.
The report, Unlocking the potential of civic collaboration, includes case studies of successful projects spanning a vast array of social, environmental and scientific topics. It outlines findings from an online survey and interviews with staff from the University and the Council, who expressed remarkably similar views on benefits, enablers and barriers affecting research collaboration.
Importantly, survey respondents from both organisations saw ‘co-producing better solutions’ and ‘looking at things in a different way’ as the principal benefits of collaboration. Interviewees with experience of collaboration from both organisations offered similar suggestions for unlocking engagement, including clearer communications channels, further networking opportunities and encouragement of ‘mature conversations’ to boost mutual understanding of organisational cultures and priorities.
As the city plans its recovery from the pandemic, responds to Brexit and prepares for devolution alongside colleagues in the West Yorkshire Combined Authority, ensuring effective knowledge exchange between academics, policy-makers and practitioners is more important than ever.
While the Review focused on bi-lateral relationships, it was very clear that these are embedded in, and dependent upon, much wider cross-sectoral networks in Leeds City Region and beyond. Researchers and policy-makers explained how their partnerships were both enabled by, and helped to forge connections to, businesses, third sector contacts and other public and higher education organisations.
The twelve recommendations for accelerating research-policy engagement proposed in the report have been well-received by senior managers at the University and the Council. A joint Reference Group that is overseeing their implementation on a phased basis. These recommendations – which include named collaboration champions, co-produced priorities for place-based research, a ‘connected Leeds’ vision for data sharing and building research activities into Council procurement – are readily compatible with wider civic aspirations and easily adaptable for incorporation of further partners in a civic mission.
Professor Adam Crawford is Director of Leeds Social Sciences Institute (LSSI) and Dr Nicola Carroll is a Postdoctoral Researcher employed by LSSI for the Review. The Review was supported by Research England’s Quality-Related Strategic Priorities funding, the Economic and Social Research Council’s Impact Acceleration Account and LSSI.