Informing policy

Giving academics opportunities to inform public policy through their research is central to what we do. We helped researchers at the University of Exeter and Brunel University communicate their work on the impact of chemical pollution in rivers to further a major EU regulatory debate.

The University of Exeter and Brunel University are at the forefront of research that proves potent synthetic hormones released into the world’s rivers have adverse effects on aquatic life.

Oestrogens in sewage effluents – notably ethinyloestradiol (EE2), an active ingredient in the contraceptive pill – are known to trigger the development of female characteristics in male fish, which decreases fertility and increases the threat to fish populations.

Rising concerns over this chemical pollution have sparked a fiercely contested regulatory debate. Academics and environmental campaigners say the weight of evidence is enough for the EU to impose strict limits on concentrations of EE2 in rivers. In the face of huge cost estimates and fierce lobbying from the water and pharmaceutical industries, the EU has placed EE2 on a watchlist and delayed any further regulatory decision until after 2017.

With stalemate reached, Exeter and Brunel are extending their investigations into the impact of water-polluting chemicals on fish populations and are looking to engage UK and EU policymakers in their research. We worked with them to present their findings in a way that can inform the policy debate.

Through our wider policy impact work, we seek to mend the persistent disconnect between academics and policymakers. As Mark Holmes, deputy director of impact and innovation at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, has pointed out, policymakers are often unaware of publicly funded studies “even though research leads to better outcomes as well as better policy”.

We make sure universities and academics are aware of opportunities to engage with the parliamentary and policymaking process. We make sure research is actively shared with Select Committees, MPs, peers and civil servants. And we make sure academics have a deep insight into the issues concerning policymakers so that they can shape their research projects most effectively and have their contributions to policy publicly credited.