Creating impact – a game of two halves

Professor Jonathan Grant

Post by Prof Jonathan Grant, Director of the Policy Institute at King’s. Originally posted by BMC Medicine on the BioMed Central blogs on 30 June 2014. Prof Grant shares his recent experiences publishing with BMC Medicine.

Two weeks ago I was involved in the publication of a research article in BMC Medicine that attempted to measure the economic returns from cancer research. It showed that for every £1 invested by the UK government and medical research charities you got 10p back in terms of the value of health gains every year thereafter, and if you combined that with previous estimates of the ‘spillover’ (or broader economic effects), the return was 40 pence in the pound.

The work built on a previous study in 2008 that developed the methodology and estimated the returns from cardiovascular research – that study came up with similar results (39% return) but was published as a report . We – colleagues from RAND Europe, the Health Economics Research Group at Brunel University, and the Office of Health Economics – tried to get a subsequent academic paper published from the report but understandably some journals, including BMC Medicine, were reluctant as it had already been put in the public domain.

This time we decided to publish the work as a paper as we wanted to secure the ‘credit’ for academic colleagues incentivised to build CVs of peer reviewed journal articles for promotion boards, REFs and other evaluative frameworks.

However, we were very conscious that academic papers are not typically read by the key audience for this paper, which were those people (aka ‘policymakers’) who make decisions about the allocation of research funds to different funding agencies such as the Medical Research Council and the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR).

An equally important consideration in the context of UK research, and especially cancer research, are the medical research charities and their donor base (with the exception of the endowed Wellcome Trust).

So given this tension we hatched a plan. We would publish in an open access journal, back that up with a policy-focused briefing note and use the collective power of the funders of the study (Cancer Research UK, Wellcome Trust, NIHR and Academy of Medical Sciences) to promote the paper to various media outlets.

The funders also found a ‘hook’ to launch the paper – a summer reception of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Medical Research. As a bit of an afterthought we decided to engage with social media through blogging and agreeing a twitter hashtag (#healthyreturns).

We chose an open access journal, in this case BMC Medicine, for two reasons. First, the work would be made available to the donor and taxpayer community that support medical research. Second, there was no word limit: we wanted to document in detail the assumptions and caveats of our work (and indeed that was the main motivation for a report the first time round).

The research team worked closely with the funders to develop a briefing note that summarised the paper in plain language, a press release and a Q&A document for the press release. A media plan was agreed between the funders, which involved sending an embargoed copy of the paper, briefing note and press release to journalists working across TV, newspapers and the trade press.

Dan Bridge (Cancer Research UK) and Liz Allen (Wellcome Trust) wrote a blog each, and over the weekend I drafted five 140 character tweets summarising the 18,000 word paper (a compression rate of 99.9%).

The first half was a dull goalless draw. No national media outlet picked up on the paper, although short pieces based on the press release appeared in a number of ‘trade’ outlets (BMJ, Research Fortnight, The Scientist).

But the second half was memorable – to our amazement we began to watch the social media interest intensify. Within 36 hours of publication, the paper had been accessed over 2,500 times on the BMC Medicine website; two weeks later there have been nearly 6000 hits.

We then found ourselves hooked to the Altmetric page linked to our published article – Altmetric is an innovation that tracks social media ‘buzz’ around academic papers by following social media sites, newspapers, government policy documents and other sources for mentions of scholarly articles. It combines this into a score allocating different weights to mentions on Twitter, in blogs and such like.

After two weeks, our paper had an Altmetric score of 134, which to our surprise was quite exceptional. The average score for all 2.2 million papers Altmetric follow (across a huge range of journals) is 4.8 and for the 760 BMC Medicine articles it follows, ours is ranked 14th. Through tweets and retweets we had reached an ‘upper bound’ of around 120,000 people.

Every morning I found myself checking my World Cup fantasy football results and our Altmetric score! (I was doing better on the latter). Some of the most interesting information was how the social media engagement spread geographically – 60% of the tweets were from outside the UK – and by different groups – 65% were from the general public and only 26% from other scientists and practitioners.

So what did I learn from this novel experience? For me, it was the combined power of social media and open access publishing. Social media acted as a sign post to the research for a wide range of people, largely outside academia. Open access then meant that everyone could read it.

Originally posted by BMC Medicine on the BioMed Central blogs on 30 June 2014.

The rise of UKIP. Lessons for the major political parties ahead of the General Election

By Emma Fox

This post is based on information presented at a recent panel discussion which took place at King’s College London in conjunction with Ipsos MORI. Watch the event online
The European Elections this May saw the first time since 1910 that neither Labour nor the Conservatives won a British national election. Instead it was UKIP who gained the most seats and they have continued to gain ground. In the recent Newark by-election, the Conservatives fought off strong competition from UKIP, but they did see their majority cut by more than half. With almost two thirds of UKIP’s European election voters planning to stay loyal in 2015, this gives them a stronger base than ever before ahead of the general election. But what can the other parties learn from UKIP’s rise?

This was the main focus for a debate at King’s College London on 27 May organised alongside Ipsos MORI. The following picks up three key challenges identified in this debate.

1. How to address the credibility shortfall?

A recent poll by Ipsos MORI shows that leadership is still a key (although declining) factor in determining the political preferences of voters.

leadershipThis importance of leadership is particularly problematic for Labour: a recent YouGov survey showed that, while people agree with Labour’s policies, they do not back the man behind them. Here, the problem is one of credibility. Only 23% of thinking Miliband would make a good Prime Minister.

Part of the problem with dealing with a lack of credibility is that, as Professor Blackburn suggested, there are no set criteria for a good party leader. Indeed, it is something of a moveable feast, with different things working for different parties. The leader needs to persuade voters that their image is best for the public, and this takes charisma.

Perhaps, as Miranda Green argued, the three main parties can learn something here from Nigel Farage, widely seen as the most charismatic of political leaders. With 51% believing UKIP highlights important issues other parties aren’t taking seriously, Farage has set a challenge for politicians to connect with the public in a different, and crucially in a less robotic, more ‘devil may care’, manner.

2. Economic credibility and key election issues: the need to tell good stories

Matthew Taylor, RSA, argued the Conservatives have the most compelling story ahead of the election, having worked hard to improve Britain’s economic situation. Ipsos MORI report this is considered the most important issue facing our country today. In good news for the Tories, economic optimism is on the rise and they are considered to have the best economic policies.

uk economyUnfortunately for the Tories the majority of the public haven’t felt the benefits: 84% of people reported the growth in the economy has had little or no impact on their standard of living. Although most also think their situation would be the same under labour. Nevertheless UKIP were ranked the lowest by far in terms of economic credibility. But their focus on immigration, found to be the second most important issue to voters, seems to have gained them voters who will remain loyal. For Lib Dems, their focus will be on local campaigns in local areas, now backed up by policies implemented in government. Miranda Green advises building on these policies, as well as presenting a manifesto which is compatible with other parties. In the lead up to the next election, coalition politics is very much on trial and any disagreements or party blame will undermine public confidence in both its ability to work, and in the Lib Dems themselves.

But is there a strategy which hasn’t been considered? Matthew Taylor argued that every Labour leader who has ever won an impressive election result has won it with a strong story about the future. But this time, no party has effectively articulated a future story and that’s partly because of the economic circumstances, where to talk about the future was considered complacent and out of touch. But with economic optimism now high, there is a space for stories about the future. The future is unoccupied terrain and if any of the major parties can start to talk about the future in a convincing way the game could change. We’ve talked about the crisis, and moving out of the crisis, but will any of the parties talk about where we go next?

3. Swaying the undecided

In 1993, 83% of the public identified with one of the three main parties. Today that figure has dropped to 67%. So are any of the parties reaching out beyond their usual voters to sway the undecided? With 45% of voters stating they might still change their minds in the weeks leading up to the last general election, it is proving more and more unpredictable. So what can the parties do?

A recent Guardian poll has highlighted a disconnect between the public and our politicians with 47% of respondents expressing anger towards politics/politicians and a further 25% expressing boredom. In contrast, only 2% claimed to feel inspired.

The problem is worst among under-30s. The Hansard Society, for example, predicts that voter turnout in this group in 2015 could be as low as 12%. This a group to which all parties could turn their attention to try and garner additional support, but it could take a change across the board.

Two thirds of under-25s would be more likely to vote for a party if they delivered their manifestos in a way that was easier to understand, and they are expressing a demand for parties to communicate more through social media channels. Some of the parties are starting to listen to these demands. Nick Clegg has assured us he will tweet his top 5 manifesto promises for under-25s, and UKIP has attempted to get #WhyImVotingUKIP trending on twitter. Unfortunately the latter seems to have backfired, but nevertheless, this is a group that parties need to try and engage.
But can Farage sway his own undecided single-handedly? This remains to be seen, but this seems to occupy his attention: he recently announced he is about to appoint a group of spokespeople to represent UKIP ahead of the election. A party source also stated they are determined to “promote more people reflective of society” and are working on their manifesto which will be launched in Doncaster in September. But is this enough to persuade the voters?

In summary, the next general election is set to be the most unpredictable to date. The major parties need to address the concerns of those who have turned away from voting, or perhaps never have, and tap into a pool of potential voters as yet untapped.


Alain Juppé sets out vision for the future of Europe

By Alice Pannier and Dr Benedict Wilkinson

Alain Juppé, mayor of Bordeaux, former French Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs spoke at Kings as part of the Policy Institute at King’s ‘Europe in crisis‘ project on 21 May.

Essentially, M. Juppé sought to send three different messages to three different audiences. To all EU voters, he outlined the main policies of the centre-right European People’s Party in the context of the forthcoming European Parliament elections. To British citizens, he sought to highlight the continuing importance of the EU for the UK (laying particular emphasis on the fact that France still values UK membership). To French electors, he gave a taste of what his European and foreign policy orientations would be if the UMP – for whom he may well yet be a candidate in the 2017 presidential elections – was to return to power.

M. Juppé began by addressing the criticisms directed at the EU, noting that Brussels is often accused of being undemocratic, naïve, inefficient, and the source of widespread unemployment as a result of its policies of austerity. And yet, he pointed out, the current credit crisis originated not in Brussels but in the United States. Moreover,  the EU has proven invaluable in providing member states with a stable currency and low interest rates. The impact of the financial crisis, in other words, would have been far greater had the Union not existed.

The best response to the problems confronting Europe, Juppé argued, is for the EU to move towards greater integration. In particular, EU action is required to enable the Union to be more competitive on the world stage in two areas in particular:  economic policy and energy policy. In the former, Juppé called for common economic policy that would go beyond mere banking supervision, thus agreeing with Angela Merkel’s proposition. His specific proposal foresaw the creation of more regional champions such as Airbus. This has been a traditional French demand, dating from concern about the predatory behaviour of American firms in the 1960s. Yet he gave few details about how such schemes might be promoted, and how governments could be persuaded to support them.

Energy provided the second element of his economic vision. The former minister underlined the strategic necessity for the EU to be less dependent on foreign energy supplies. The EU’s inability to prevent the annexation of Crimea was, according to him, partly down to the Union’s reliance on Russian gas, partly to the inability of Britain, France and Germany’s to speak with one voice on the international stage, partly to considerations of “realpolitik”, such as France’s wish to go ahead with the sale of Mistral ships to Moscow. A possible solution would be for European countries to invest both in nuclear power and renewable energy.

The Q and A session following the speech focused on the Ukrainian crisis, France’s attitude towards on UK membership and the ‘democratic deficit’. On the first, Juppé insisted on the need to restore “a balance” of influence and power between the EU and Russia, for which energy independence is key.

When it came to the position of the UK, Juppe stressed that France remains attached to UK EU membership, arguing that Brexit would be “a catastrophe”. Moreover, he emphasised that there was no need for treaty change, as the current treaties permit an “à la carte” EU, allowing more integration for those who want and can, and opt-outs for others, thus making it unnecessary to either leave the EU, or change the treaties. He gave very little sense, however, of how a Europe in which Eurozone member states proceeded forward with further integration could also take account of non-euro member states such as the UK, whose governments have genuine concerns that tighter Eurozone integration might diminish their influence over key ‘EU-27’ policy areas such as the single market.

On the issue of the ‘democratic deficit’ , the former Prime Minister argued that the Lisbon treaty partly corrected this by giving more power to the Parliament. In light of the results of the elections to the European Parliament, which took place the day after his speech and which saw a significant rise in the popularity of Eurosceptic parties across Europe, however, there is certainly room to doubt whether Europe’s citizens perceive the EU parliament in such a positive light.

The Policy Institute at King’s will discuss the European elections’ results in its next event on 9 June.

Catch up on this event online