March 29, 2021, by htaylor

Lessons from the Rights Lab/Home Office Buddying Scheme

In July 2020, the UK’s Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner recommended in her report ‘Preparing for Impact’ that in order to make progress in the fight against modern slavery researchers and stakeholders must ‘take proactive steps to understand each other’s worlds’. Elaborating further, the report noted that this should involve ‘devot[ing] time to making sense of each other’s work and the context within which it is set.’

The report made reference to a pilot ‘buddying scheme’, established in March 2020 between the Rights Lab’s and the Home Office, established with the purpose of pairing academics from the Rights Lab with policy officials in the Home Office’s Modern Slavery Unit and the then-Department for International Development (DfID). The aim of the pilot was to transform policy officials’ understanding of how to work with academia and make best use of research, and transform researchers’ understanding of the policy environment and how best to craft research for use by Government.

The six-month pilot ended in October 2020, and the successes and shortcomings found in the subsequent evaluation of the programme provide useful insights into how a robust, mutually beneficial version of this scheme might be implemented going forward.

Over the course of the six-month period, selected participants met with their assigned ‘buddy’ to discuss their work, share insights and challenges, identify and work to answer research questions of shared interest, and generate ideas for future collaboration.

Whilst the timing of the global Covid-19 pandemic put unforeseen constraints on the running of the scheme and meant that face-to-face meetings were an impossibility, many participants still managed to forge important relationships with their ‘buddy’, had many fruitful exchanges and crucially gained much needed insight into the world of academia and policy, respectively.

The ten participants in the scheme were matched on the basis of relevance to each other’s work and, out of the five pairs, all but one found participating in the buddying scheme beneficial. In particular, six participants commented that participating in the scheme was an educational experience and that they learnt about the work, timescales, goals and issues of their partner’s organisation. A civil servant participant described it as lifting their head ‘above the parapet’.

One pair in particular identified a shared area of research interest and embarked on a collaborative research project. This ongoing project is believed to prospectively impact future policy, with the policy official in the pair remarking that the scheme enabled ‘a piece of work that has the potential to help us understand the scale of an issue and potentially lead to a rethink about how we prioritise resourcing between Romania and Moldova’.

When asked to reflect on aspects of the scheme that could be improved in the future, most participants’ suggestions centred around the need for greater guidance and structure and longer timeframes for involvement in the scheme. The full list of recommendations for how the buddying scheme can be strengthened can be read here – Briefing – Evaluating the ‘Buddying Scheme’.

Vicky Brotherton, Rights Lab Head of Policy Engagement & Impact, commented, “We are grateful to Home Office colleagues for partnering with us on this scheme. The findings from this pilot have shown that there are clear and tangible benefits to allowing researchers and policy officials to connect and learn from each other. The Rights Lab is now taking forward these recommendations into our ‘buddying’ initiative, and also hope the findings from this pilot will be of use to others looking to implement similar schemes.”

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