Whitehall team uniting policymakers with academics to be expanded after digital successes

Written by Richard Johnstone and Sam Trendall on 25 April 2018 in News

The Cabinet Office is looking to grow its Open Innovation Team and bring in new partners and policy areas

Credit: Mr M Evison/CC BY-SA 2.0   Image has been cropped

A Cabinet Office team dedicated to incorporating academic expertise in policymaking is to be expanded after working on a number of successful digital transformation projects. 

The Open Innovation Team was formed in summer 2016 to deepen collaboration between the civil service and the world of academia. The unit is supported by Research Councils UK, and sponsored by four leading universities: Bath; Lancaster; Southampton; and Warwick.

Digital has been the team’s biggest strand of work over the past 18 months, with projects underway or under discussion in areas such as distributed ledger technology, data scraping, automation, and digital ethics.

Cabinet secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood praised the team’s work in a recent blog post. 

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“For example, they’ve helped the Department for Health and Social Care develop ideas for the Transforming Children and Young People’s Mental Health Provision Green Paper, and set up a Digital Government Partnership that’s getting more academics involved in our huge digital transformation agenda,” he said.

Heywood said that the innovation team could now be expanded, with plans to scale up the unit later this year by asking universities to sponsor them for another two or three years.

The team already has plans to work in more policy areas, the civil service chief said, including in areas such as competition, labour market reform, community integration, environment and education.

“The challenge of deepening our collaboration with academia, and the related task of ensuring that policy remains evidence-led, obviously can’t be solved by a single small team in the Cabinet Office,” Heywood said. “However, I’m pleased to see colleagues experimenting with new ways of partnering with academics, and delighted that it seems to be having a positive effect.”

Although he noted there was “already a long queue for support” from the Open Innovation Team, Heywood called on any teams elsewhere in Whitehall who think they might benefit from its help to get in touch with the group.


About the author

Richard Johnstone is deputy and online editor of Civil Service World, where a version of this story first appeared.

Sam Trendall is editor of PublicTechnology


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