‘The Public Value of Evidence-based Policymaking’

Dr Peter O’Brien

Y-PERN: A Regional Research and Policy Engagement Network

It has been a tumultuous period, by recent standards in modern British history, with the dynamics of domestic policy decisions, governance and global market forces intersecting in ways that have produced profound implications for communities, households, and individuals, up and down the country. The economic challenges facing the UK economy, especially in regions like Yorkshire, were significant prior to COVID, and they have been exacerbated by the pandemic. Thus, giving rise to a renewed search for innovative solutions to complex problems.

The Yorkshire and Humber Policy Engagement and Research Network (Y-PERN) is a new initiative, funded by Research England. Y-PERN, convened by Yorkshire Universities, will enable policymakers to harness and utilise world-class research to better inform and shape crucial decisions around jobs, skills, infrastructure and investment. During an unprecedented cost of living crisis, Y-PERN will help to identify and incubate answers to the fundamental economic, financial and social questions facing our region.

Y-PERN will be led by an integrated team of expert Policy Fellows, based within and across all four sub-regions in Yorkshire, supported by an independent academic advisory group. In Yorkshire, we have one of the largest clusters of universities outside of London. Y-PERN will bring together universities of all different shapes and sizes. Our universities already work collaboratively, and the mission of Yorkshire Universities is to support and strengthen that collaboration.

Universities, Communities and Policymakers

Universities have a critical role to play in working with society to push the frontiers of knowledge and understanding about the world in which we live. Public policy is much more effective when informed by data, evidence, and practical experience of what has worked in the past.

Studies co-designed and conducted in partnership with local actors can also generate the most insightful perspectives. In addition, they ensure that communities have a stake and are an integral part of the policy-making process.

As charities, universities receive significant amounts of public funding, and there is a responsibility to use research for wider benefit or good. Creating closer relationships between researchers and policymakers means that findings are more likely to have wider and more enduring societal impact.

Tackling Key Economic and Societal Challenges

Policymakers face the stark reality of tackling immediate inflationary price rises, especially in food and energy, whilst laying the foundations for long-term, sustainable growth and prosperity. All at a time when public finances are under mounting pressure, and the cost of capital is increasing.

Yorkshire is a fantastic region, full of potential, great assets, a vibrant culture, and it has a world-renowned brand. But like most places, COVID has had a major impact. Social and spatial inequalities have widened. Growth fell dramatically, and large numbers of businesses and places have been unable to bounce back. Health inequalities have become more pronounced, with the poorest and disadvantaged communities impacted the most. As a region, we have suffered from decades of under-funding, and so improving connectivity and mobility between people and places is vital. The UK is competing for new trade and investment, and climate change is impacting heavily upon Yorkshire. The move to a net-zero economy presents a real opportunity, but the shift should be undertaken as part of a fair and just transition.

These big questions require robust analysis and interpretation, and they demand new policy answers and interventions. Universities in Yorkshire, with local, national and global links, can help policymakers find solutions, and attract public and private investment. Academics can also undertake the monitoring and evaluation of policies, examining what works, and how emergent and future approaches can be more effective.

Y-PERN will contribute directly towards the formation of new insights into the key challenges facing different economies and places in Yorkshire – ranging from urban, rural to coastal. One of the key measures of success for Y-PERN will be its ability to build more connections between academics and to lay the ground for new research proposals between universities and policymakers. Thinking about the talent pipeline within our research base is also important – which means Y-PERN will work closely with early-career researchers.

Y-PERN’s Contribution to National Policy Engagement

As a higher education sector, we are moving in the right direction towards encouraging more interaction between universities and policy bodies, through the Research Excellence Framework, Knowledge Exchange Framework and Universities Policy Engagement Network. These mechanisms are now high on the agenda for universities in Yorkshire. However, we need more performance and reward mechanisms to encourage sustained progression, based on an assessment and measurement of the value of policy engagement.

Y-PERN will be part of a wider peer network, and it is important that there is joint learning and the sharing of good practice. There is huge value and potential in learning from projects and experiences outside Yorkshire. Y-PERN will make the case for more inter-sector secondments and placements – to help nurture knowledge exchange and encourage collaboration. Y-PERN could generate real impact if these arrangements were to become more of the norm in Yorkshire.

Finally, Government and its agencies should, over time, recognise the value of Y-PERN and how it can encourage greater policy engagement and co-production between Yorkshire and Whitehall, when it comes to formulating ideas on the big issues facing the country and the region. A clear illustration of devolution in action.

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Yorkshire awarded £3.9m to strengthen evidence-based policymaking in the region

A new, ambitious project will connect world-leading research expertise in Yorkshire’s universities to policymakers in Councils, Mayoral Combined Authorities and Local Enterprise Partnerships in the region.

Research England has awarded £3.9m in funding, over three years, to a consortium led by Yorkshire Universities to establish the Yorkshire and Humber Policy Engagement and Research Network (Y-PERN).

Y-PERN’s objectives are twofold. First, it will provide policymakers with immediate insights and evidence on how to tackle the most pressing economic and social challenges facing the region. Second, the project will help to build sustainable analytical capacity and capability that will widen and deepen knowledge and understanding about Yorkshire’s future growth and long-term development.

Yorkshire Universities works to strengthen the combined contribution of the region’s universities and higher education institutions to Yorkshire’s people and places. Recent work supported by Yorkshire Universities has underpinned the rapid development of the region’s Space Cluster and the testing of new approaches to planning and strengthening workforce recruitment and retention in the Health and Care Sector.

Professor Karen Bryan OBE, Chair of Yorkshire Universities, said: “This is a unique initiative, which involves all twelve member institutions of Yorkshire Universities, drawing upon diverse and complementary research strengths. Y-PERN aligns perfectly with our new 2022-25 Strategy, which is focused on informing public policy with practice that is underpinned by research, innovation and knowledge exchange.”

By providing regional leaders and Government with direct access to research, Y-PERN will inform major policy interventions and investment decisions. The Network will also provide insights into what types of public policy have worked in the past, and what might be successful in the future.

Y-PERN will be driven by a team of Policy Fellows located within Hull and East Yorkshire, South Yorkshire, West Yorkshire, and York and North Yorkshire, and advised by an independent panel of academic experts. Leeds University Business School will manage the project on behalf of the partnership that includes Yorkshire Universities; Yorkshire and Humber Councils; South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority; West Yorkshire Combined Authority; Hull and East Yorkshire Local Enterprise Partnership; and York and North Yorkshire Local Enterprise Partnership.

What impact will Y-PERN have?

Yorkshire’s universities contribute £3bn each year to the region’s economy and play a critical role in generating jobs, creating innovation, talent, and enterprise, and driving productivity.

Y-PERN will harness the research talents and expertise of all Yorkshire’s universities. National and local government will be encouraged to use the findings Y-PERN presents in policy interventions that can improve the region’s prosperity, infrastructure and inward-investment.

Comments from other partners:

Professor Nick Plant, Deputy Vice-Chancellor at the University of Leeds, said: “We are delighted that Research England has awarded funding for Y-PERN. The University of Leeds is committed to civic engagement and the application of research for the benefit of communities, businesses, and the wider environment. This network will significantly contribute to our ability to support regional economic recovery from COVID.”

Professor Andrew Brown, Academic Lead for Y-PERN, and Professor of Economics and Political Economy at Leeds University Business School, said: “Y-PERN will support a wide array of academic policy engagement activities. It will aid the joined-up, evidence-based and place-based policy approach that is vital to help policymakers understand and tackle the economic challenges we face. There has never been a more crucial time to mobilise the depth and breadth of academic expertise in Yorkshire – as Y-PERN is committed to doing. I am delighted that this major investment will provide a real step-change in the collaboration between academics, policymakers, and the communities that they serve.”

Oliver Coppard, Mayor of South Yorkshire, said: “Y-PERN is an exciting new venture for Yorkshire, bringing together the expertise from our universities and the local knowledge of our authorities, and we are pleased to support it. It will add capacity and resource to our vital work around skills, employment, sustainability and data analysis. The South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority already works closely with our universities, Sheffield Hallam and the University of Sheffield, and this will help us build on those relationships, and boost their impact.”

Tracy Brabin, West Yorkshire Mayor, said: “West Yorkshire is home to some of the best universities and academics in the world. This exciting and unique project enables us to gain invaluable expertise and insight for our work, which helps us better understand the issues facing our communities. I look forward to seeing this initiative rolled out across the whole of Yorkshire.”

James Newman OBE, Chair of Hull and East Yorkshire LEP, said: “The University of Hull has contributed significantly to the activities of LEP in Hull and East Yorkshire. The University is a much-valued anchor institution, and through its research and innovation activity, it is supporting the region’s net zero ambitions as the UK’s largest provider of clean energy and carbon capture solutions. I welcome the Hull and East Yorkshire LEP being part of this consortium and working with academic researchers to help realise our vision for a more successful and resilient region.”

Helen Simpson OBE, Chair of York and North Yorkshire LEP, said: “This is an exciting time for York and North Yorkshire, following the signing of the Devolution Deal in the summer. The University of York and York St John University are key partners in our local coalition. Our devolution proposal was, in part, successful due to the input of the two local universities. Y-PERN offers the potential to enhance the LEP and new local institutions’ relationships with higher education, which will be vital if we are to achieve the goals in our long-term plans for York and North Yorkshire.

Kersten England CBE, Chief Executive of Bradford Council and Chair of Yorkshire and Humber Councils, said: “Some of the challenges facing us across Yorkshire and the Humber, such as protecting the most vulnerable, tackling inequalities and creating sustainable growth and prosperity, have no simple solution. We have a keen enthusiasm to draw upon the best research possible and collaborate to make sure it reaches all parts of the region. Y-PERN will do this and help take our existing partnership with universities to the next level.”


Research England shapes healthy, dynamic research and knowledge exchange in England’s universities. It distributes over £2 billion to universities in England every year; works to understand their strategies, capabilities and capacity; and supports and challenges universities to create new knowledge, strengthen the economy, and enrich society. Research England is part of UK Research and Innovation.


Yorkshire Universities has a shared commitment to strengthen the contribution of universities and higher education institutions to the economic, social and civic well-being of people and places in Yorkshire. There are an estimated 15,900 academics based in the twelve member institutions of Yorkshire Universities, which are: Leeds Arts University; Leeds Conservatoire; Leeds Beckett University; Leeds Trinity University; Sheffield Hallam University; University of Bradford; University of Huddersfield; University of Hull; University of Leeds; University of Sheffield; University of York; and York St John University.


Through the cross-party Yorkshire Leaders Board and Yorkshire and Humber Chief Executives group, Yorkshire & Humber Councils work effectively together, for the betterment of the whole of Yorkshire and the Humber, as well as for local citizens, businesses and communities, ensuring a role and voice for the region in national debates. These arrangements bring together the twenty-two councils across the region, along with the two Mayors in South Yorkshire and West Yorkshire, and the combined authorities in those areas.



Dr Peter O’Brien, Executive Director: p.obrien@yorkshireuniversities.ac.uk, 07912 268087.

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