CAPE Case Study: Richard Whittle, Policy Fellow (January 2022) 

Strengthening academic-policy engagement in West Yorkshire

First published in CAPEnews Issue 8, 25 January

CAPE is looking to understand how universities can mobilise their research findings and capabilities by working with local and regional authorities in order to enhance evidence-informed policymaking. CAPE’s West Yorkshire Policy Fellow was established in the context of West Yorkshire’s changing political landscape: the establishment of the region’s first Mayor.  

Through the fellowship, we are exploring how embedding knowledge brokerage within new political infrastructure can support place-based policy making processes, especially regarding the regions’ economic recovery from the impacts of the pandemic. In particular, CAPE is looking at how the fellow can enable linkages and engagement with West Yorkshire Combined Authority, local authorities, West Yorkshire universities and the Place-Based Economic Recovery Network (PERN) to delivery policy processes and outcomes that are driven by and support the regions’ communities.

We asked our CAPE policy fellow, Dr Richard Whittle, to reflect on what’s happened to date in his first 6 (of 12 months) in post.

A bit about me

I’m Dr Richard Whittle, an economist with a background in behavioural and computer science. I’m particularly interested in public policy formation and its evidence based, including the role of Artificial Intelligence in Public Policy, understanding of online communities and approaches to financing and investment. Broadly my research encompasses the impact of technology on society. Previously I led the MSc Taxation and Fiscal Policy developed with HMRC for Senior Civil Servants and recently led the review of the retail economy for the Greater Manchester Independent Prosperity Review. My latest research, funded by the ESRC Productivity Insights Network, investigates the future of retail in West Yorkshire.

West Yorkshire has the potential for meaningful and long-lasting academic policy engagement infrastructure

I was awarded a CAPE fellowship in July 2021 working with Yorkshire Universities, the Place-based Economic Recovery Network (PERN) and the West Yorkshire Combined Authority, to lead an innovative project tasked with strengthening the use and application of university research to inform public policy in West Yorkshire. This got off to a rapid start and on my first day I received my second Covid vaccination and presented to the West Yorkshire Economic Recovery Board on the implications of C-19 on the future of retail in the region. This was a clear indication of how this fellowship would progress. The academic policy engagement infrastructure in West Yorkshire developed by Yorkshire Universities has the potential to be deep, meaningful and long-lasting and the CAPE fellowship is increasingly key in this process.

Place-based networks are strengthening engagement

The key vehicle in strengthening academic policy engagement in West-Yorkshire is the Place-Based Economic Recovery Network (PERN). PERN is an academic led, multi-university network of experts in place based economic recovery, regeneration and resilience. It was established to offer support to West Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority, Leeds City Region Local Enterprise Partnership, and other public bodies, such as local authorities in the design, plan and implementation of COVID recovery efforts.

PERN is a single body with an academic representative from each of the 7 West-Yorkshire Universities and provides multi-dimensional and multi-disciplinary perspectives. It acts as a direct source of reference for the Combined and Local Authorities as well as support for the CAPE fellowship. Via the fellowship, PERN have been invited to engage with numerous policy makers and policy professionals at many levels within West-Yorkshire. PERN has developed evidence and engaged meaningfully with policy in several aspects of economic recovery, the safety of women and girls, regional tax policy, skills development, innovation mapping and much more. Crucially several impactful policy co-creation relationships have been established supporting policy professionals and academic research impact.

We are shifting towards regional policy engagement

Prior to the fellowship starting, the academic policy engagement culture was strong, especially between a university and its local government, though usually a function of relationships between a small number of academics and policy professionals. The fellowship has helped facilitate policy engagement between the West-Yorkshire University Sector and regional policy in general. This is a key shift in supporting evidence based policy in West-Yorkshire.

Dr Richard Whittle is playing a crucial role in building on the initial building blocks designed to strengthen academic research and policy engagement in West Yorkshire, principally through the West Mayoral Combined Authority. Research and evidence is seen increasingly as essential to informing and shaping effective policy and strategy in West Yorkshire in the areas of local and regional development, social mobility, policy and crime strategy, economic intelligence and foresight.

Dr Pete O’Brien, Executive Director of Yorkshire Universities

The fellowship has also embraced and developed a number of initiatives for academic policy engagement including directly funded research, roundtables with selected academic experts and relevant policy leads, the creation of expert directories, evidence submissions and representation on numerous policy committees. Above all however is the facilitation of trusted partnerships and academic policy relationships developing a longer term cultural shift in academic policy engagement. The fellowship provides an important conduit and stable point of contact between the multiple policy and academic actors in West Yorkshire.

Our outputs and what we’re looking towards

PERN have supported a workstream examining ‘the barriers to working class participation in policy making’ and expect the first piece of academic research in this stream to be available shortly. This will be accompanied by a succession of policy engagement measures bringing the PERN academic community together in a vitally important issue and supporting evidence based policy development

PERN, Yorkshire Universities and this fellowship is making a considerable impact in numerous and varied areas, bringing together academics, policy makers and policy professionals to inform and co-create policy. For example working in collaboration with the Combined Authority, PERN has commissioned an academic evidence review examining the safety of women and girls in West Yorkshire.  This ongoing policy engagement is led by researchers from the None In Three Research Centre based at the University of Huddersfield and is a key demonstration of PERN supporting academic policy engagement.

Fellowships deepen understanding of how to connect with policy

My CAPE fellowship has had a huge positive impact on my development as a policy focussed academic, I have far greater insight into the policy making process and its evidence base enabling the strengthening of my research and its own impact. I would urge every academic who researches a policy relevant area to consider a fellowship working with policy making institutions to really understand how they can connect with policy.

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Introducing YU’s new Policy and Research Officer

Marina Tapley, Policy and Research Officer

I joined Yorkshire Universities (YU) in November as the new Policy and Research Officer. After being part of the Executive Team for over a month, I am taking the opportunity to introduce myself, and to reflect on what I have enjoyed getting involved with at YU so far, and what I am most looking forward to in this role.

I recently attended a Yorkshire University myself; I am a graduate in International Relations and French from the University of Leeds. During my studies, I covered a broad range of topics, but focused on the theme of security and linked security to UK climate policy in my dissertation, where I examined the reactions of different actors to the climate crisis. I also worked on counter-terrorism research, as part of a Laidlaw Research and Leadership Scholarship that enabled me to co-author a journal article and policy brief, as well as to present my research at academic conferences.

One of my favourite parts of student life was the clubs and societies I was involved with. I am passionate about environmental and social justice, so I was especially proud to help establish the University of Leeds Student-Staff Climate Coalition from its inception during my final year. I am really optimistic about the roles that YU and its member institutions can play in our region’s response to the climate crisis and in particular their relationship with the Yorkshire and Humber Climate Commission (YHCC). Since starting at YU, I have learned about the work of the YHCC Research & Evidence Panel, including its current mapping exercise of existing expertise, and I am excited to see how this will support the implementation of the new YHCC Climate Action Plan. Universities are vital in helping the region address the climate emergency, and I hope to help YU coordinate collaboration in this area.

As part of my undergraduate studies, I also spent a year abroad in Brussels working for a consultancy firm, IBF International Consulting, and had the opportunity to support an EU-funded capacity building project, Election Observation and Democracy Support (EODS). At EODS, I managed and updated a database of caselaw relating to electoral and political rights. I am enthusiastic to build on my interest in political systems within a different context to improve my understanding of the governance structures in the region at an exciting time of change, following the election of the first West Yorkshire Mayor, now in situ alongside the Mayor of South Yorkshire. I am interested to see how devolution evolves in Yorkshire and how universities can support existing and emerging leadership within the region.

After graduating, I worked for a domestic abuse charity on a pilot project, in partnership with Birmingham City Council, providing tailored housing support to women fleeing domestic violence. In this role, I saw some of the barriers facing university students trying to flee domestic abuse, particularly given that most full-time university students are not eligible for housing benefit to cover the cost of emergency accommodation, such as refuge. Since starting at YU, I have continued to work in this area, supporting an ongoing evidence review on the safety of women and girls, commissioned by the Place Based Economic Recovery, Regeneration and Resilience Network (PERN) and led by the University of Huddersfield. The evidence review will enable the West Yorkshire Combined Authority to develop a new strategy to support the safety of women and girls, a key manifesto pledge of the West Yorkshire Mayor, Tracy Brabin. Through my role at YU, I hope to contribute further to this collaboration, which aims to improve prevention of gender-based violence and support victims and survivors. I am also looking forward, more broadly, to help facilitate academic research expertise to help shape policy and support local leadership.

As someone who graduated in 2020, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, I welcome the fact that universities in Yorkshire are working closer together to support students and graduates. One example is the Yorkshire and the Humber Student Mental Health Network, which brings together the region’s universities and the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities to encourage greater collaboration around mental health support for students.  I have also been involved in YU’s Graduate Labour Market Task & Finish Group, which aims to support graduate employment and enterprise. Here, it has been fascinating to learn about the vast range of initiatives that exist to support students and graduates to access employment in Yorkshire, and the potential to strengthen the region’s offer further.

One of main reasons I wanted to work for YU is to contribute towards the organisation’s key role in facilitating broad partnerships with a range of actors across the region, which aim to help reduce inequities and create a more inclusive region.  Universities are increasingly focused on their place within local communities and how they support local and regional development, as illustrated in the framework agreed by YU and Yorkshire and Humber Councils in their recent Memorandum of Understanding.

As YU’s Policy and Research Officer, I have an excellent opportunity to put into practice the policy and research skills that I have learned during my studies and since graduation. I am looking forward to continuing my development across a wide range of interesting topics covered by YU’s varied work. Personally, I am also delighted to have the opportunity to move back home to Yorkshire, and to deepen my knowledge and understanding of, and connection to, this brilliant region.

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PERN Academic Steering Group / Women in Economics joint submission to the House of Commons Treasury Select Committee

Responding to a call by the House of Commons Treasury Select Committee, which is holding an inquiry entitled, ‘An Equal Recovery’, the Place-based Economics Recovery Network (PERN) academic steering group, and Women in Economics research community initiative have submitted written evidence to the Committee.

You can read the submission here.

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New CAPE Regional Development Fellow with Yorkshire Universities

Yorkshire Universities (YU) is delighted to welcome the appointment of Dr Richard Whittle, as the first Capabilities in Academic Policy Engagement (CAPE) Regional Development Fellow. Starting on 1 July, Richard will work with YU, the Place-based Economic Recovery Network (PERN) and the West Yorkshire Combined Authority, to lead an innovative project tasked with strengthening the use and application of university research to inform public policy in West Yorkshire.

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CAPE is hiring! Policy Fellowship with Yorkshire Universities

CAPE is pleased to announce a new Policy Fellowship opportunity with Yorkshire Universities (YU), working together with the West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA).

This role will require the successful candidate to work closely with YU, WYCA, PERN and other partners in West Yorkshire, including local authorities, further education, health and care sector, communities and business.

Listen to the CAPECast podcast in which Sarah Chaytor, UCL’s Director of Research Strategy & Policy chats to YU Executive Director, Dr Peter O’Brien about how universities can help to support evidence use and address regional policy priorities.

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PERN Academic Steering Group submission to the BEIS post pandemic economic growth consultation

This response has been authored by an economics sub-group of the Place-Based Economic Recovery Network (PERN) Academic Steering Group, by Dr. Thomas Haines-Doran, Professor Andrew Brown, and Professor Gary Dymski from the University of Leeds; Professor Jamie Morgan, Leeds Beckett University, and Dr. Richard Whittle, Manchester Metropolitan University.

PERN brings together experts from West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA), Leeds City region Enterprise Partnership, Yorkshire Universities, and universities outside of Yorkshire, with the aim of playing a key role as ‘anchor institutions’ in regional recovery and development.

Here you can read the submission in full.

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PERN Webinar series on the West Yorkshire recovery strategy

The first pilot approach to test PERN were a series of webinars. These events were held during the course of July 2020 and were initially coordinated by the University of Leeds, working together with Yorkshire Universities. They offered and opportunity for debate and conversation by experts and academics, adding value to the policy development of the recovery strategy.

Each topic was raised by the Economic Recovery Board, and included questions to structure to the debate and conversation. The webinars were based on the following principles:

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