Achieving policy impact

The concept of ‘research for public good’ rests on the assumption that research can be used to inform decision makers and practitioners, both locally and nationally. By using the best evidence possible, policymakers can make better decisions to improve people’s lives. But how can this be done?  How can a piece of research find its way to the desk of a government minister or civil servant - and even if it does, how can they be persuaded to engage with it?

In this section, we have a number of resources designed to inform and direct researchers towards making their research have policy impact.

Tailoring your research

A great way to think about how your research ideas are aligned to public policy is to look at the governmental areas of research interest (ARIs) or the stated priority research areas of the devolved administrations. These give a good indication of the research that different parts of government are looking to support. Each department publishes these on a regular basis to inform their policies and help them solve problems. They are also used by Select Committees and other government functions, such as the Commons Library and research teams.

Tailoring your research to meet government priorities can mean you are more likely to get traction and achieve policy impact. You can find a collection of the ARIs published by each government department on the Areas of research interest.

The Economic and Social Research Council has published a platform to help researchers explore how their research can help solve problems. It classifies the ARIs by topic and by government department.  ARI Database | Search, browse or analyse Areas of Research Interest (ARIs) from UK governmental bodies. Further information about who uses ARIs and how can be found on the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) website.

If you’d like to know more about ARIs, these articles might be of interest:

Another resource that could be helpful is CLOSER’s policy impact templates.  These give ideas for headings and word counts for different kinds of policy communications. They can be found on their Policy hub in the section entitled How to engage with policymakers.

Using administrative data to evaluate policies and practice

Research using administrative data can be a valuable resource in evaluating the effectiveness of different policies. Indeed, evaluation is recognised as a key part of good policymaking, helping to provide evidence on whether an intervention or a change has worked, or is working, or not.

This review from the Office for National Statistics explains how government departments and public bodies in the UK have a commitment to undertake and learn from evaluations of their policies, programmes or investment activity. The report focuses on the data that is held within the ONS Secure Research Service and how it has been used for evaluation purposes.

Further information and resources to support evaluation can be found on the UK Evaluation Society website.

Case studies on policy impact

ADR UK seeks to maximise value from administrative data access, linking, and research across the ‘Five Ps’ of impact. These include policy: influencing government or other public bodies to inform policies, strategies and standards, through understanding and insight gained from research.

Many types of policy impact have come about thanks to the efforts of a wide range of individuals and organisations working with administrative data. The below case studies are just a small sample of what has been achieved through a variety of engagement methods.

Working with a voluntary or community group

Ethnic inequalities in the criminal justice system

As part of her ADR UK Research Fellowship, Dr Kitty Lymperopoulou generated evidence on the extent and drivers of ethnic inequalities in the criminal justice system in England and Wales. The findings were published in a policy briefing paper.

Authors: Dr Kitty Lymperopoulou, Dr Patrick Williams, Prof Jon Bannister

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Care experience, ethnicity and youth justice involvement

ADR UK Research Fellow Dr Katie Hunter conducted research into how ethnic identity and care experience intersect with criminal justice system involvement. She uncovered a number of key findings, including that care-experienced children were disproportionately likely to have youth justice involvement. These were summarised in a policy briefing, with recommendations for intervention.

Author: Dr Katie Hunter

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Media coverage

Evaluating the impact of alcohol minimum unit pricing on deaths and hospitalisations in Scotland

A research study using secure data estimated that Scotland’s policy on a minimum unit price for alcoholic drinks significantly reduced deaths wholly attributable to alcohol consumption by 13.4%. This study received significant media coverage, and the attention of the Public Health Minister for Scotland. In August 2023, senior UK public health experts published a letter of support for the main research finding.

Authors: Dr Grant Wyper, Catriona Fraser, Clare Beeston, Lucie Giles, Professor Daniel Mackay, Professor Jim Lewsey, Dr Mark Robinson

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Academic collaboration with government

The lifelong health and wellbeing trajectories of people who have been in care

A study using secure data found that cared-for children had a deeply unequal chance of enjoying the same social and economic advantages in adulthood as other children. This research provided evidence for the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care, which led to the UK Government pledging an official implementation strategy including further support activities.

Authors: Professor Amanda Sacker, Emily Murray, Rebecca Lacey, Barbara Maughan 

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Mental health of children known to social services in Northern Ireland

Researchers in Northern Ireland explored the mental health outcomes of children known to social services. The findings were used to inform the new strategy for care-experienced children and young people published in 2021, “A Life Deserved: “Caring” for Children and young people in Northern Ireland”. 

Author: Dr Aideen Maguire

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Data science and linked data aiding understanding of the unfolding Covid-19 epidemic in Wales

Data scientists from ADR Wales conducted a series of rapid response projects related to the Covid-19 pandemic. These explored the experiences of those placed on the shielded list in Wales and those who lived with a shielded individual - in particular their interactions with health services. Findings from this work informed the One Wales response to Covid-19, which regularly fed into Wales Technical Advisory Group (TAG) and UK SAGE updates.

Author: Ashley Akbari

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An analysis of returning defendants from 2011 to 2019 in England and Wales

Ministry of Justice analysis provided powerful new insights for policy and practice on repeat defendants, which were shared with Ministers and policymakers. This was crucial for understanding how interventions can be targeted to reduce reoffending, a key departmental priority.

Authors: Tom Jackson, Caris Greyson, Dr Ian Rickard, Prof Andromachi Tseloni 

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What's in it for you? 

Making an impact on policy with your research is not only personally satisfying and beneficial to the public – it can also enhance your career.

Policy-relevant research can generate more opportunities for funding, as this is often tied to policy impact as a measure of success. Examples include policy-based fellowships and seed funding schemes.

Influencing policy can lead to new or strengthened networks. These, in turn, could lead to further opportunities for research and allow you to reach a wider "audience". It may even help you consider opportunities outside academia in your long-term career goals.

Policy-relevant research also offers the opportunity to produce more varied publications beyond journal articles. These may include policy briefings or reports, case studies, and systematic reviews.

Further reading

Tell us about your impact

Do you have a story of how you achieved policy impact through your research and findings? Let us know – we can share your experiences and learnings with other researchers.

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