What is the importance of research to policy?

What is the importance of research to policy?







By Professor Neil Lindsay

So much can be wrapped up in so few words and, arguably, this is an underpinning issue for government. But terms are important and some clarification is probably needed before we move on.

‘Research’ is defined in many places but a very general description involves work carried out to answer specific issues and questions, or to widen understanding or to add to the body of knowledge.

‘Policy’ and the policy community are demanding customers who need to be properly informed in order to make tough decisions. So when we talk about research and policy we really should focus on the exploitable output of research and policy; in most cases the exploitable output of research is, of course, evidence.

I have worked for most of my career in defence and security and evidence has clearly played a critical role in important government decisions. For example, major defence acquisition decisions are only taken after complex analysis of large datasets, which can be operational, economic, strategic and political.

The Royal Navy’s future aircraft carriers have been shaped by a detailed analysis of requirements, design features, costs, performance and production data. This has required useable, accurate evidence. They have also been shaped by the requirements of the aircraft on-board, for example, short take-off or catapult-assisted, which then impacts aircraft propulsion design such as lift fan versus conventional thrust modes, and so on down an intricate cascading chain of effects, all evidenced.

Finally, it is important to note that this use of evidence and analysis, in this example informing the acquisition of a pair of new aircraft carriers with new aircraft, ultimately supports a basic government policy position on ‘force projection’ or the ability to deploy independent operational units around the world as needed.

Evidence supporting policy.

Professor Neil Lindsay is Senior Advisor to the Counter-Terrorism Science and Technology Centre at DSTL and a Policy Fellow at the Centre for Science and Policy at the University of Cambridge (CSaP). Read more about his work on the CSaP website.