Rethinking policy 'impact' : four models of research policy relations

Boswell, Christina and Smith, Katherine E. (2017) Rethinking policy 'impact' : four models of research policy relations. Palgrave Communications, 3 (44). pp. 1-10. ISSN 2055-1045 (

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Political scientists are increasingly exhorted to ensure their research has policy ‘impact’, most notably via Research Excellence Framework (REF) impact case studies, and ‘pathways to impact’ statements in UK Research Council funding applications. Yet the assumptions underpinning these frameworks often fail to reflect available evidence and theories. Notions of ‘impact’, ‘engagement’ and ‘knowledge exchange’ are typically premised on simplistic, linear models of the policy process, according to which policy-makers are keen to ‘utilise’ expertise to produce more ‘effective’ policies. Such accounts overlook the rich body of literature in political science, policy studies, and sociology of knowledge, which offer more complex and nuanced accounts. Drawing on this wider literature, this paper sets out four different approaches to theorising the relationship: (1) knowledge shapes policy; (2) politics shapes knowledge; (3) co-production; and (4) autonomous spheres. We consider what each of these four approaches suggests about approaches to incentivising and measuring research impact.


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