A Bridge too far? Reflections on 21st Century Diplomacy @CumberlandLodge

Fascinating. Here are some initial thoughts from me on doing engagement, inter-professional working and extending our interest (or do I mean obsession) with policy. Thanks for the post – Klaus.

This post highlights the challenge for academics who are interested in communicating their work to new audiences but aren’t really sure whether engagement is something they “do” or want to do. The anxiety often relates to: what happens if I don’t? My suggestion: if it isn’t something you enjoy, team up with people who do enjoy it. And go from there. Although I also accept the idea of teaming up might also be going against the grain.

I have experienced similar challenges and opportunities regarding inter-professional engagement in the environmental policy context – at government, regional and local levels. We work on different timescales, in different languages and different styles. I think secondments can really help here – but this requires openness on both sides and significantly time!

My final point relates to the focus on “policy” – imagine – academic research influencing, say, foreign policy. Pretty sexy. Holy grail of impact – particularly if you’ve documented it. But, and this relates to most government level work like this, the policy is the product – what about the process and practice? For those of us interested in doing this work: How does our research make a difference there? With those, for example, foreign office workers on the ground in locations around the world? Or in London, taking committee meeting minutes? Being in the back office, dealing with local politics? What difference can academic research have here? What might academic researchers do here? Might “policy” be interested in what academic research might offer? Plus who else might we talk to if we work with middle managers and new starters in policy settings? We are encouraged to look upwards to the highest levels of policy – but I’ve found web editors, press officers, analysts, and the evidence team (to name but a few) to be key agents in bridging the divide. But, of course, it’s easier to measure citations in policy products than conversations over tea at a conference.

After two days of presentations and conversations with a distinguished group of academics, Foreign and Commonwealth Office officials and think tank professionals, I am in an upbeat mood. I thought it was indeed possible to ‘bridge the academic-foreign policy divide’.

But first what was this divide we were asked to reflect upon? There were a number of divisions at play but I will just briefly reflect on two – an intra-academic one and an inter-professional one. One challenge is actually within the academy itself where they remains a degree of suspicion about how far and in what kind of manner we might engage and liaise with other communities, especially government. Notwithstanding the impact agenda and associated emphases on public engagement and working beyond the academy, delegates did reflect on the fact that academics have mixed views regarding such endeavours.

Inter-professionally, it was repeatedly noted that academics and foreign policy professionals…

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