The Bridge


By Dr. Tammy Boyce

This is the first blog in the series ‘The Bridge’. The Bridge – not about the fantastic Swedish/Danish drama but a blog about the relationship between policy and evidence, and how to build ‘better’ bridges between policy-makers, academics and practitioners. A blog about creating and encouraging possibilities, bridging gaps and starting conversations – persuading people on all sides of the policy/academia relationship to think a little more about each other and build bridges.

I have experience on both sides. For ten years, I was an academic who published research I had spent many months writing. Whilst I thought they were terribly interesting, like so many other academic papers, few people ever read them. When I published less formal reports I found they were read more often by both ‘lay people’ (i.e. not academics) and academics. Frustrated with the lack of impact on the ‘real world’, I left academia.

I worked for the King’s Fund, the UK’s leading health policy think-tank, and enjoyed working more directly with those developing and writing policy. I also worked with the Marmot Review at UCL, part of the team that wrote Fair Society, Healthy Lives. I saw first-hand how research can influence policy. I saw Ministers’ eyes widen when Michael Marmot talked to them about the gradient in health inequalities – making the point that targeting the poorest was not going to reduce health inequalities for all.

But I don’t have rose-tinted glasses. There were times when we talked to civil servants but they rushed through our meetings and dismissed the copious amounts of evidence we presented – they had to produce policies that worked in the ‘real world’ and sometimes evidence seemed to ‘get in the way’. On the whole, I encountered more civil servants keen to develop better evidence-based policies and willing to take risks to convince their senior managers and ministers that better policy – based on evidence – was possible. This is where The Bridge, part of DECIPHer, fits in – a space to initiate and build conversations between academics and researchers with the ultimate aim of improving health and reducing inequalities.

What is meant by social gradient?

The poorest of the poor, around the world, have the worst health. On the whole, the lower an individual’s socioeconomic position the worse their health. There is a social gradient in health that runs from top to bottom of the socioeconomic spectrum. The social gradient in health means that health inequalities affect everyone.

For example, if you look at under-5 mortality rates by levels of household wealth you see that the poorest have the highest under-5 mortality rates, and people in the second highest quintile of household wealth have higher mortality in their offspring than those in the highest quintile (source: WHO). This is the social gradient in health.

DECIPHer is one of the world’s leading public health research centres and has always regarded its influence on policy as a central to its success. DECIPHer is built on the premise that:

  • Research can make policy better;
  • Policy can make research better.

As such, The Bridge continues on the good work started by DECIPHer and aims to:

  • Encourage conversations between academics and policy-makers;
  • Share examples of DECIPHer’s research and its links and influences on policy;
  • Highlight examples where policy and academics have worked well together;
  • Show examples where policy and academics could’ve done better (i.e. where they ignored each other!).

I look forward to the conversation.

Dr. Tammy Boyce (@TamBoyce) works with DECIPHer as a Knowledge Exchange consultant.

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