Achieving health impact and materialising air pollution: how science-policy interfaces were achieved in an inter-disciplinary project

Emma Garnett, Judith Green, Zaid Chalabi, Paul Wilkinson

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Abstract

Societal impact is an increasingly important imperative of academic
funding. However, there is little research to date documenting how impact
is accomplished in practice. Drawing on insights from Actor Network
Theory, we explore the research-policy interface within an inter-disciplinary
research project on the relationships between air pollution and human
health. Health policy impact was important to the researchers for moral as
well as pragmatic reasons, but it was a goal that was seen as potentially in
tension with that of doing science. In fields such as air pollution and
health, networks of policy makers and researchers are inevitably entangled
and processes of engagement operated to delineate ‘science’ from
‘policy’. ‘Health’ was initially black boxed and under-explicated, used as a
signifier in itself for societal impact. By mobilising networks of policy
actors, brought together in workshops to rank the importance of policy
scenarios for the research team, the connections between air pollution and
health were materialised and made actionable. This was achieved by
framing existing data sets, emission technologies, policy expertise,
pollutant species and human health in particular ways and, in doing so,
excluding others. The process of linking air pollution and health research to
achieve societal impact not only influenced how these phenomena were
known but, critically, enabled and constrained potential policy
responses. Tracing these research arrangements made the material
discursive processes of ‘impact’ visible and analysable as objects of social
science scholarship, and therefore generated a productive site for critically
engaging with processes of environment and health science and policy
Original languageEnglish
JournalHealth: An Interdisciplinary Journal for the Social Study of Health, Illness and Medicine
Publication statusPublished - 2018

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