1. Reaching policymakers

Professor Mike Kelly, Senior Visiting Fellow, Institute of Public Health, University of Cambridge. Formerly Director of the Centre for Public Health at NICE Director of the Centre for Public Health at NICE: 

“Until 2014 I was the Director of the Centre for Public Health at NICE (the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence). As such my role included working at the interface of the academy, the Civil Service, Westminster and Whitehall. One of the key problems facing NICE and policy makers more broadly is the gulf between much academic research and its usability in policy making.  However, there were several beacons among the academic centres I worked with, which managed very successfully to bridge the gap. One was CEDAR in the University of Cambridge. What was apparent was that CEDAR had set in place procedures and mechanism to facilitate getting their research not only in front of policy makers, but also in a way that policy makers and guideline developers like NICE, took notice of. The person who has led and managed these efforts very successfully in CEDAR is Oliver Francis.

“The generally good impression I had of CEDAR was confirmed when in early 2015 I was acting as a Special Advisor to the Heath Select Committee of the House of Commons. I recommended that the written evidence which had been submitted by CEDAR to the Committee’s investigation into childhood obesity, should lead to an invitation directly to the Cambridge team to give oral evidence to the committee in the House. This was orchestrated and managed by Oliver. The written evidence and the oral presentation were exemplary. They were wonderful examples of how to make scientific evidence clear and compelling and useful. The subsequent recommendations of the committee strongly reflected the CEDAR contribution. 

“I have been spending time in Cambridge since my retirement as a Senior Visiting Fellow in the Institute of Public Health. In that capacity I have worked closely with Oliver on a range of activities linked to the REF exercise and other research-policy linkages. Oliver has a very clear understanding of the three worlds of the academy, policy making and politics, how they differ and the kinds of strategies that are likely to be successful in linking the three together. In my experience in Whitehall and Westminster and in the University sector, this is a rare gift and one which CEDAR and the wider University benefit from. CEDAR led by Nick Wareham is an outstanding research group in a top MRC Unit. But it is all the more influential in the wider world beyond the academy not just because of its academic excellence, but because of the energy and skills of Oliver Francis.

“His application has my wholehearted and unequivocal support.”

Dr Felix Greaves, Deputy Director, Science and Strategic Information, Joint Head of Science and Engineering Profession, Public Health England:

“At PHE, we have noted that communications from CEDAR and the MRC Epidemiology Unit are high quality and relevant for public health policy and practice. More than that, it’s apparent that there’s a much wider, more ambitious approach to knowledge exchange than simple dissemination and PR. Researchers are keen to engage to share evidence and hear non-academic perspectives, and when I’ve met with Oliver he has provided useful insight and is always keen to find new ways to build productive links between the University and public health decision makers. This approach has led to productive collaborations, including jointly supervised PhD students between PHE and the MRC Epi unit, and several researchers from their unit being embedded in our teams.”

2. Supporting MRC Epidemiology Unit impacts

Dr Jenna Panter, Senior Research Associate, MRC Epidemiology Unit and CEDAR: 

“I have had the pleasure of knowing and working with Oliver for nearly 10 years now. In his role as Head of Communications & Knowledge Exchange at the MRC Epidemiology Unit, Oliver has fostered an environment which actively encourages researchers to communicate their findings to achieve impact and supports them to do this in the most appropriate way. For some, this involves engaging stakeholders and the public with their work including through evidence briefs (concise summaries of our research findings designed for busy policy makers and practitioners) and stakeholder events but for others this has involved infographics, pod casts and co-hosted events.

“For example, he co-hosted and co-facilitated the ‘Policy Propeller’ workshops with CSaP aimed at junior civil servants from the Department of Transport. This was run as a DfT professional development scheme, which enabled up-and-coming civil servants gain a better understanding of evidence use in policymaking. A Civil Service blog notes of the Propellers: “DfT is so pleased with the outcomes that it wants to replicate the scheme, and is extending a tailored programme at Executive Officer level and making this part of the overall talent management and capability strategy for the department.” These events have meant that we have built strong relationships with DfT and they regularly contact us with queries about the state of the evidence, how to build the case for action in spending reviews or to help write briefing papers. Oliver facilitates the building of these relationships in a productive, respectful way which has put researchers in the best possible position to create impact. 

“Oliver has also drafted and co-drafted many public facing and policy documents in collaboration with researchers as well as those specifically designed for MPs and members of Select Committees. He’s worked tirelessly and gone above and beyond to ensure these documents speak to the people who read them. He’s actively encouraged policy internships and placements for researchers in non-academic settings and has supported and commented on several applications from early career researchers and PhD students to these schemes. Oliver has made an outstanding contribution to the impact that the MRC Epidemiology Unit has made and this wouldn’t have been possible without his passion and drive for translating research findings into policy.”

Dr Thomas Burgoine – Career Development Fellow, MRC Epidemiology Unit and CEDAR:

“Oliver has supported loads of different pathways to impact for my research about the health effects of the food environment.

“This has included media training, advice, and being just out of shot for TV work that would have been otherwise overwhelming; supporting me in advance of a Parliamentary evidence session; developing lay summaries of research; leading our launch and engagement strategies for the Food environment assessment tool (including making a promotional film together, which was a steep learning curve but a lot of fun); inspiring and challenging me to engage with the public at outreach events – and much more.

“Oliver also helped to shape, and is a valued collaborator on, my NIHR-funded study evaluating the use of online data tools. My research currently underpins a draft REF case study, and I really feel I couldn’t have achieved the impacts we’ve made without Oliver’s insight and support.”

Dr Felix Day – Senior Research Associate, MRC Epidemiology Unit:

“Oliver has delivered a number of seminars on aspects of communications and impact at our PhD-Post Doc forum, targeted particularly at those at the start of their careers. He is a great podcast host (as I can attest from being the first interviewee), and I am very grateful for the media training that he has given me prior to the release of papers. This has included a session before my first experience of media exposure; and considerable help with a paper on the influences on the age of first sexual intercourse which understandably garnered a lot of media attention.”

Results from a survey following a Communications Workshop to the Prevention of Diabetes programme, co-devised and delivered with Lucy Lloyd,  Communications and Knowledge Exchange lead at the Primary Care Unit: www.surveymonkey.com/results/SM-32XV6V2Y7/

Dr Amy Ahern, Senior Investigator Scientist, MRC Epidemiology Unit, further reflects:

“Oliver is an engaging and inspiring trainer. His insightful advice has been critical to improving our team’s communications and engagement. He brings a creative perspective to finding innovative ways to engage with our stakeholders, participants, and patient groups, and to tell better stories about our research. His training equipped the team with fundamental skills and stimulated all members to identify opportunities for more effective communication and engagement in their own role.”

Feedback from the review committee at the 2015 quinquennial review of the MRC Epidemiology Unit. (This feedback was provided to the Unit as a whole, when commenting on the Knowledge Transfer and Exchange strategy.)

“The Unit’s KTE strategy and activities employed a range of approaches and were well-considered, appropriate and effective.

  • Innovative and high quality programme

  • Outreach excellent

  • Should be disseminated more broadly across MRC as exemplar of good practice

  • Placements in policy environment very innovative and strongly supported.”

3. Supporting impact at the University

Lauren Milden – Policy Adviser, Centre for Science and Policy, University of Cambridge:

“Oliver Francis’ leadership and the approaches he has pioneered in policy engagement activities have significantly enhanced the public health policy landscape at the University, as well as the University’s wider policy engagement community.

“Throughout my three years (2016-2019) working on the Public Health: Research into Policy project Oliver was a trusted and go-to source for insight and analysis regarding policy engagement for myself and my senior colleagues. He had a track record of excellence, leading communications and knowledge exchange at a unit known for its successful engagement with government departments and Select Committees, and methods for dissemination, including policy briefing documents.

“Oliver’s innovations included recognising the scope for a cross-University policy impact group, which helped lead to the formation of the Policy Impact Network (currently led out of the University’s Centre for Science and Policy, with 29 members from across the University). Moreover, from day one, Oliver was a proactive team player, meeting with new colleagues to share resources, joining and meaningfully engaging with numerous committees (including the Public Health: Research into Policy’s steering group, and the UoA 2 REF Impact Sub-Committee), and was always willing to contribute to the success of public health policy engagement activities, even taking photos at events when needed.”