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Engaging with civil servants to improve impact

09 December, 2020

Engaging with civil servants to improve impact

Peter Mallaburn

Clare Downing

Aimee K Eeles

Case study  

Peter Mallaburn, Clare Downing and Aimee Eeles

Academic research programmes tend to have limited engagement with civil servants. As a result research is underused in policy and researchers are unfamiliar with both the policy process and government funding opportunities. We also believe it is important that UKRI’s investment in CREDS benefits society and the “common good”.

To address these issues CREDS set out to deepen its relationship with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) so that we could:

  • Understand how publicly funded research is used by government as part of the policy process and to complement its own research activities.
  • Accelerate the impact of our research by providing insights, analysis and evidence in a number of key policy areas.
  • Leverage the relationship to provide opportunities for researchers to engage with Government.

We decided to bring together the existing strong day-to-day relationship the UCL Buildings and Energy team have with BEIS with the extensive project management, knowledge exchange, marketing and communications in the core team.

This approach proved to be pivotal for getting BEIS on board because the relationship was with a programme rather than an Institute or University. This avoids procurement barriers and allows civil servants to engage with us much earlier and be more open in what they can say. To illustrate this the collaboration began with a workshop on Covid-19 with two departments: BEIS and MHCLG, run by Peter Mallaburn and Kay Jenkinson. This was of particular merit because CREDS was able to act as a facilitator between two departments with very different policy priorities and perspectives on the underlying evidence base.

The collaboration has developed significantly since with three projects underway: on new performance standards for buildings, on policies for industrial SMEs and on innovative ways of accelerating technology deployment. For all three we have been able to engage with BEIS far earlier in the policy process than would normally happen, for example helping to write a consultation document rather than simply being encouraged to respond to it.

In addition, we are keen to make the relationship work in the other direction, i.e. “policy influencing research” as well as “research influencing policy”. A team leader from BEIS shared her expertise with over 130 CREDS staff in a webinar and follow-up blog, Making government policy: what does a Policy Professional do? in November 2020 explaining how research and policy interact to produce policy impact. This has built the capacity of CREDS researchers to do engagement and has allowed us to gain a good understanding of the policy processes and these many exchanges have the potential to improve the impact of CREDS research.

Future plans

Feedback from both events has been strong and follow-up meetings have been planned, along with a review of the collaboration to decide how to take it forward. We are also investigating secondment opportunities for CREDS researchers with BEIS.

Buildings and Energy theme researchers have begun policy analysis on the impact of minimum performance standards for small business premises.

Sources of information


In the last 12 months, CREDS has been testing out a more proactive approach to working with us. This is unusual for a UKRI programme and a very welcome development that should improve how we engage with researchers and utilise their input in our policy development. As part of this new approach we have set up several collaborative projects, for example on the impact of Covid-19 on UK commercial buildings. It’s early days, but we hope to use this collaboration as the basis for a more strategic, impactful relationship as CREDS evolves. Stephanie Parker, Head of Business Strategy, Energy Efficiency and Local division, BEIS.

Publication details

Mallaburn, P., Downing, C. and Eeles, A.K. 2020. Engaging with civil servants to improve impact. Centre for Research into Energy Demand Solutions. Oxford, UK. CREDS case study.

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