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How humanities research can help policymakers

A recent event explored the vital contribution that humanities researchers can make to policy.

Arts and humanities researchers can provide creative solutions to the UK’s most pressing policy challenges, Professor Jo Fox has argued.

Speaking at an event organised by the London Strategy and Policy Network and the London Research and Policy Partnership, Professor Fox pointed to the real and far-reaching contribution that humanities research can make to a broad range of policy issues, from the ethical implications of policy choices, to how to engage the public in decision-making and avoid policy mistakes from the past.

Professor Fox noted that humanities researchers have long been engaged in policy-relevant initiatives and made effective and profound contributions to policy-making in the UK and abroad.

"Even the most cursory scan of the findings of the recent Research Excellence Framework exercise, which measures the impact of research in the UK, uncovers significant contributions from the humanities to policy,” Professor Fox said.

“These include contributions to health and well-being, climate change, social justice, heritage and the arts, innovation and industry, and community-building and place-making.”

Take HUGTM, for example, a sensory doll developed by researchers at Cardiff Metropolitan University that has generated an 87% increase in wellbeing among Dementia patients. Or Temporary Contemporary, a collaboration between the University of Huddersfield and Kirklees Council that revitalised a town centre by populating former retail units with a programme of events and activities. Or ClimateJust, a mapping tool designed by humanities researchers at the University of Manchester that supports climate policy-making that protects the most vulnerable.

"The reach is wide, the interactions with other disciplines and other sectors deep, and the outcomes transformative," concluded Professor Fox.

Dr Justin Colson, Senior Lecturer at the Institute of Historical Research, also spoke at the event and provided an example of the ways in which research and policy could work together.

Layers of London records and shares multiple histories of London through a co-created online map that collates archive material and individual memories about the city. The project has worked in partnership with archives and marginalised groups, as well as policy-makers and place-makers, to engage communities in their local heritage.

For Dr Colson, the lessons of the Layers of London project were clear: "The practice of history is an ideal way of facilitating place-making, allowing researchers and policy-makers to embed, empower and co-create with local communities, rather than imposing solutions from above."

The event brought together researchers and policy-makers to discuss the benefits and challenges of collaboration. Ben Rogers, Professor in Practice at the University of London, chaired the event and called for more engagement between research and policy, urging policy-makers to "draw on all that the humanities have to offer us."

His comments were echoed by Professor Pascale Aebsicher, the principle investigator for The Pandemic and Beyond, which is a hub for researchers, decision-makers, and user groups to understand how COVID-19 is impacting on health, law, culture, society and the arts:

"Come and talk to us – and find out how arts and humanities research will help you."

Find out more about the London Research and Policy Partnership.