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Durham University

Institute of Advanced Study

Blurring Boundaries, Bridging Gaps and Building Networks? (The humanities as) expertise in and for policymaking


Professor Glen O’Hara (Oxford Brookes University) and Dr Alix Green (University of Central Lancashire)

History is one of many disciplines identifying a ‘gap’ between the distinctive forms of ‘evidence’ it produces and those policymakers appear to require. ‘Bridging’ such 'gaps' has for some while served as a prominent metaphor in both political and historical studies. Efforts to do so up to now have often focused around the concept of translation, for example assembling shorter, targeted summaries of academic work or holding in-house workshops for the curious official.  The framing of both the ‘problem’ and the ‘solution’ are revealing – and neither are satisfactory.  

The panel has been consciously assembled with speakers (see below) with direct experience of the policy/evidence environment from more than one perspective or standpoint. They will address a number of issues that run through these debates, such as:

  • Ways in which we might assemble accounts of attitudes to evidence and academic expertise with more effective disciplinary grounding, and how this helps us think about the role of evidence and academics, in public and other debates today (such as the future of Europe, the ‘refugee crisis’ and Scottish independence as only three among very many);
  • The tendency of disciplinary communities to advocate for the relevance of their own specialised field. What are the implications of such advocacy for influence? Is there indeed potential, as advocates of 'interdisciplinarity' have claimed over many years, for an approach based more on the complementarity of different disciplines?
  • The tendency to seek to preserve the integrity of the boundaries that define each discipline. How do our conceptions of politicians and the policymaking process shape the terms on which we are willing to be active in policy relevant work? 

Participants will address these issues by drawing on their own specialised research and boundary-crossing experience.

The convenors, Professor Glen O’Hara (Oxford Brookes) and Dr Alix Green (Central Lancashire), propose that the panel will involve Nick Hillman (Director, HEPI and former Special Advisor to David Willetts), Dr Mike Finn (Liverpool John Moores and former Head of Research/ Political Speechwriter in the Liberal Democrat Leader’s office) and Mr Mathias Haeussler (Cambridge). They are, however, open to suggestions for speakers, where these fit with the premise of the panel to present insights that draw on more than one standpoint in the policy/evidence environment.